Lady Elks loaded for title defense
It’s hard for Burleson volleyball coach D’Anna Newton to not be a little excited about the possibilities for her Lady Elks this season with 10 players back from a squad that won the District 5-5A title and reached the second round of the playoffs.
A year ago, the Lady Elks dropped their 5-5A opener at Granbury then reeled off 13 consecutive wins to nab the district crown.
Burleson then swept Fort Worth Eastern Hills before losing to regional finalist Birdville in the area round of the playoffs. The Lady Elks finished with a record of 31-10.
“You can’t ask for anything more than having 10 players back from a district championship team,” Newton said. “I believe this is our year to go far in the playoffs. This is a great bunch of kids and I’m happy that I will have some of them for another year or two.”
Burleson returns five seniors, four juniors and a sophomore from last year’s squads and their expectations are high.
“They believe they can go further than they did last season,” Newton said. “They have the mindset that every game matters and every practice matters.”
The seniors are outside hitter Ellie Strebeck, middle blocker Maddie Gregory, right-side hitters Madison McCall and Addison Lambert and defensive specialist Macy McCoy.
Setter Mia Smalls, middle blocker Emily White, outside hitter Emily Rich and defensive specialist Kylah Shumate are the juniors returning. Sophomore libero Emma Dustin is also back.
With so many players back, the few practices the Lady Elks have gone through have been good ones.
“We have been able to go in practice and not re-teach things,” Newton said. “Things are much different this season. Last year was the first for many to be on the varsity and now they know what is expected from them. The girls know what it is going to take to defend the district championship.”
The Lady Elks are loaded on offense and defense.
Smalls, a first-team 5-5A player last season, will run the offense. The addition of senior Berkley Bodiford at setter will allow Smalls, who had 1,206 assists last season, to hit more this season.
“Mia is the quarterback of our team,” Newton said. “We expect a lot from her not only skill-wise but leadership wise.”
The outside hitter position is loaded with 5-5A MVP Rich and first-teamer Strebeck in the breach. Rich had team-high 556 kills last season and Strebeck was second on the team with 427 kills. Sophomore Belle Davis will also see playing time at outside hitter.
Gregory and White, second-team all-district players, bring experience at middle blocker.
“They have done it before there,” Newton said. “They both did great for us last season, so expectations are high.’
At right-side hitter, McCall and Lambert are expected to have bigger roles as seniors. Backing them up will be junior Jacie Rymerson.
Dustin, who earned first-team honors last season, returns at libero. Dustin led the Lady Elks with 392 digs last year.
At defensive specialist, McCoy and Shumate are back. Joining them this season will be sophomore Nicole Rangel.
“I plan on getting everyone playing time,” Newton said. “I’ll be able to do that because of so many options and so many of them can play multiple positions.
There will come a time when I’m going to go with who is performing the best and who can go in there and get the job done.”
The Lady Elks opened their season Tuesday night with a 26-24, 25-17, 25-21 non-district road win at Stephenville.
Friday, Burleson begins play at the Bev Ball Classic in Abilene. The Lady Elks will be playing at Abilene Cooper High School in a pool with Wylie, Lubbock Monterey, Water Valley, and Clyde.
Newton said she likes taking her team to the Bev Ball Classic because of the level of competition and also the opportunity for team bonding.
“It’s good to get out of their environment and experience new things,” Newton said. “We also get to see different styles of play which is a bonus.”
The Lady Elks first home game is Tuesday against Weatherford. Burleson opens district play Sept. 13 at Centennial.