Last year was great and all, but Lamar seniors Kayla Whetstone and Emily Dondero have little interest in reminiscing.
Both players had a significant part in the Lady Vikings’ breakout 2015 season. That team earned a 4-6A championship and beat crosstown rival Arlington in a thrilling matchup in round three of the playoffs.
But Whetstone and Dondero will have an even bigger say in how Lamar follows up last season’s success. They don’t want their junior year to be the high point of their high school careers.
“We’re really close and we’ve talked about this for a long time,” Whetstone said. “We don’t want to just remember our junior season, how we had such a good season. We want to remember our senior year. It’s our senior year. We don’t want to treat it like, ‘Oh, we did good our junior year.’ We want it to be like we were good both seasons.”
Dondero and Whetstone have every reason to expect a memorable senior season. Lamar, which opened the regular season Tuesday at home against Mansfield Legacy, lost eight seniors from last year’s team but replaces that group with a new group of eight seniors. The Lady Vikings also have four juniors, but they have a little more youth this time around with three sophomores. Several of the current seniors, including Dondero, are taking over key roles that were played by seniors a season ago.
“This senior class is special,” coach Heather Woodman said. “The senior class last year liked each other and got along really well. And this group is the same, and it’s made my job easier.”
Whetstone was the only sophomore to play in Woodman’s first season at Lamar. Now, the outside hitter provides the experience of being the only three-year letter winner on the squad. With that experience comes heightened expectations, but Whetstone said she’s enjoying the challenge of being one of the team’s primary leaders.
“I think it’s hard being on varsity so long and playing for such a long time,” Whetstone said. “It’s a constant reminder that I have to perform my best, since I’m in [the game] all the time. But Emily said I have to stay focused and move on” from mistakes.
Dondero’s taken on a bigger responsibility as the team’s new starting libero. Dondero, who’s in her second season on varsity, was a defensive specialist last season with former star Taylor Murata at libero.
Woodman sees plenty of similarities between Dondero and her predecessor. “Emily digs the same ball, goes hard like Taylor did,” Woodman said. “And she’s scrappy. Obviously, there’s a huge hole to fill, but Emily’s doing a great job filling it.”
The libero position requires Dondero to take the second ball after the setter takes the first. She also has to dig a lot more balls than she did a year ago. Plus, she has to be a great communicator on the court.
“She’ll be fine,” Whetstone said. “She’s really good at what she does.”
Dondero and Whetstone are not satisfied with just being good at what they do. They’re also working to get the best out of their teammates. The duo expects their Lamar teammates to match their intensity and focus, but that doesn’t mean either of them will be screaming their heads off at younger teammates. That’s not their leadership style.
“I think both of us very much want to win as much as we can, and we’ll do whatever it takes,” Whetstone said. “And, no, we’re not going to be mean, but we need everyone to be on the same page with us. So, we need to keep everyone in sync with us.”
Dondero and Whetstone want to prove that Lamar is still the same caliber as the Lady Vikings squad that reached the regional tournament. “We changed the culture at Lamar,” Whetstone said. “At first, we didn’t really know how to win. And then we went out there and started doing it.”
High school volleyball
Tournaments begin this week with Arlington, Martin, Sam Houston and Seguin in the Mansfield Rotary Sunrise tournament beginning Thursday and played at various Mansfield school district locations. Lamar will travel to Austin for the Jason Landers Invitational beginning Thursday, and Bowie will be competing locally in the Texas Advantage Volleyball Club ASC High School Tournament beginning Friday.
Area football teams are gearing up for their first 11-man competitive action of 2016. Martin begins at 10 a.m. Aug. 19 taking on a fierce foe in Allen at Eagle Stadium. Arlington has a tough opponent of its own, visiting Southlake Carroll at the same time. Sam Houston will play at Seguin at 10 a.m. Aug. 19.
Former Lamar wide receiver Franky Okafor has signed as a rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals out of the NFL training camp in Arizona. He’s the first Southeastern Oklahoma State player to join the NFL in over a decade.
Stephen English: email@example.com, @sbenglish74