Heading into his ninth season at the helm of the Dripping Springs Tigers, head volleyball coach Michael Kane realizes the increasing level of expectations success can bring.
Fielding a team dripping with talent, Dripping Springs is not only expected to be a frontrunner in the newly crafted District 25-5A this season, but also a possible contender in the vastly competitive Region IV, 5A.
For Kane, taking things one match at a time is the mantra for a Tiger team aiming at a handful of goals in 2018. Kane said they hope to start with a possible seventh straight district title and perhaps culminating in a return trip to Garland and the state tournament.
Leading that effort will be a “core” group of returning athletes from a 2017 squad that finished the season in the Region IV semifinals.
Up front, Dripping Springs will have seniors Madison Certain and Alexis Haydt, who will bring their size and skill to the outside hitting positions. In the back, Tiger libero Maddie Burkholtz, an Arizona State University pledge, returns to lead the Tigers on the defensive side.
Bridging it all will be a one-two setting combination of Avery Kalsu, who’s committed to Tulsa University, and Sarah Nadine, an Abilene Christian University commitment.
Kane said having Kalsu and Nadine return is “invaluable” as they both have been able to run the Tiger program for the past two seasons.
However, Kane said Dripping Springs’ talent goes beyond their starting six. The Tigers have “depth in every position” and there isn’t a significant drop-off among athletes, Kane said. That extends to a talented class of junior varsity and freshman players, which Kane said has led to one of the highest level of skill he’s managed in a gym in the past nine seasons.
“We did lose some strong players, but we feel with the kids that are coming back and the depth we have, we’re going to be a contender in the region,” Kane said.
Dripping Springs will test its talent early on during the course of its rigorous predistrict schedule. The Tigers will have individual matches against New Braunfels Canyon, Rouse, Georgetown and Hays, all of whom reached the postseason last year, and are expected to contend in 2018.
The Tigers will also take on a trio of grueling tournaments, including a return trip to the Texas Volleyball Invitational in Pearland.
While winning is the ultimate goal, Kane said improvement, primarily during the team’s challenging predistrict run, is equally important.
“We’re concerned about improving, challenging ourselves and finding where the holes are in that process,” Kane said. “In that process of playing a tough schedule, if it makes us have a couple of losses, it doesn’t bother me. We want to win every game, but we’re more about challenging ourselves to prepare for the next phase.”
Keeping the ball rolling will be key as the Tigers enter their new district, which features several Austin ISD squads, as well as Lockhart.
Of the eight teams in the current district, only Dripping Springs, McCallum and LBJ reached the postseason in 2017. Crockett, Travis, Lanier, Reagan and Lockhart had a combined overall record of 41-99 last season, according to MaxPreps.
However, Kane said operating as a frontrunner also means having to work with a large target on a team’s back as well.
“People are going to show up every game to play you,” Kane said. “Because we’ve been successful in the last few years, we’re getting everyone’s best game and that’s what we want.”
But Kane plans to avoid looking ahead to the postseason. Instead, focusing on what’s happening in front of his program is paramount.
“We’re going to take each team in our district and give them the respect they’re due by showing up and giving them our best effort,” Kane said.