by JASON GORDON
Head volleyball coach Erica Walther believes Hays High has a perfect storm heading into the 2012 volleyball season.
The whirlwind includes a solid mixture of veteran varsity team members along with some new faces that should wreak havoc on not only District 27-4A but Class 4A Region IV.
Gone from the Hays district are perennial powers Canyon and Smithson Valley, both of which moved up to Class 5A. Also, defending Class 4A state champion Lake Travis, which dominated Class 4A Region IV in recent years, has graduated to the Class 5A level.
“As soon as we saw the realignment in February, we knew our goal was going to be making it to state,” Walther said after the Lady Rebels held their first official summer practice Monday. “We still have a strong region and a strong district, but we also have the best group of players at Hays I’ve had since I got here in 2008.”
Despite having a tough start to the beginning of the season in 2011, the Lady Rebs made the playoffs as the fourth seed and snapped a two-year playoff winless streak by beating District 28-4A title winner Boerne Champion in bi-district action before falling to Cedar Park in the area round.
Returning from that team for the Lady Rebels are outside hitter Sydney Paradeaux, Hannah Ramsey, who will play outside hitter after starting for two years as setter, outside hitter Natalie Valdez, outside hitter Dezaray Garner, setter Courtney Rogers, defensive specialist Courtney Wilcox and Emily Frazell. In addition, middle blocker Rachel Normand, who is out at least another month with a knee injury, will return to varsity when she is healthy.
Walther’s much-lauded newcomers include junior middle blocker Melanie Harrington and a fab-five group of sophomores – middle blocker Taylor Britton, outside hitter Kara Conn, defensive specialist Madison McCauley, outside hitter Shannon Park and Kathryn Wristen, who is tabbed to be the starting setter this year.
“Our sophomores will make a tremendous impact this year,” Walther said. “They won district last year as freshmen and lost only three games total, and two of those were to Lake Travis. They have a great competitive attitude. They like to work and do whatever it takes to win. They are already pushing the varsity to be better. We have a great combination of youth and experience that will do nothing but help this team.”
Paradeaux is Hays’ leading returning hitter, as her powerful right arm averaged nearly four kills per game last season. Walther expects even more of the 6-foot, 2-inch junior this year.
“Sydney did nothing but improve over the summer,” Walther said. “Her club team won third at nationals, and Sydney was named one of the top 79 juniors in the country by prepvolleyball.com. She has a great, powerful swing, and her passing and defense is outstanding. We will rely on her heavily this year.”
Walther also praised her all-everything athlete Ramsey, who switched from shortstop to centerfield for the regional finalist Hays softball team earlier this year.
“Hannah absolutely hates to lose and she’s one of those athletes you can put anywhere on the court and she’s going to fight to be the best she can be,” Walther said. “We needed her as a setter the past two years, but this year we need her hitting, passing, and digging ability. I have no doubt she will excel because that’s the kind of athlete she is.”
Paradeaux said she doesn’t think Hays will be fighting for fourth place in the district standings this year.
“I know this team is going to be so much more consistent than we ever were last year,” Paradeaux said. “It took awhile for us to gel last year, but we started practice this year with everyone clicking on the very first day. I honestly think this group has an excellent chance to get to state.”
Wristen agrees with her veteran teammate.
“We’ve set very high standards for ourselves starting from day one,” Wristen said. “We want to keep improving and stay positive. I think the younger and older players set examples for each other and that’s going to make us a group that’s going to be hard to beat.”
Ramsey said just winning a playoff game this season isn’t going to be enough.
“It was great when we won in the first round last year but it was a big disappointment when we came so close in the second round,” Ramsey said. “What happened last year has just given us the motivation to want to go much further in the playoffs this season.”
Hays will scrimmage at New Braunfels High School on Friday with games at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., before returning home to Bales Gym to scrimmage on Saturday against Anderson, Canyon and McCallum at 10 a.m., 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
The Lady Rebs start the regular season next Tuesday against LaGrange beginning at 6 p.m.
The Hays Rebel Bash Tournament runs Sept. 6 and Sept. 8, and the Lady Rebels start the District 27-4A season Sept. 7 at home against Seguin.