After notching almost 650 victories, including a state championship in 2003, and starting three high school volleyball programs from scratch, Stephenville Honeybees head coach Fran Metzger may have seen it all.
Each year’s team has its own relative strengths and weaknesses, and the 2017 squad is no different. This year’s unit features a little less height up front, but ball control and versatility should be strengths.
The first day of practice for the 2017 season was Monday. The Honeybees flew right into the action on Friday with a scrimmage at home featuring Krum, Fort Worth Paschal and Abilene Cooper.
Today, Aug. 5, the Honeybees will be part of a four-team scrimmage in Gatesville that also includes Temple High and Killeen Shoemaker.
The regular-season opener for the Honeybees is set for Tuesday, Aug. 8 at home against Burleson High. The freshman game will begin at 5:30 p.m.
The Honeybees lost four key seniors to graduation, but eight lettermen return from the team that finished second to Glen Rose in the seven-school District 8-4A alignment. Metzger said those eight should provide leadership with their maturity.
“I lost my two tallest players, so we don’t have the height, but these (players) are really scrappy,” said Metzger, who needs just four more wins to reach the 650 mark in career victories. “They are versatile. They have the capability of switching.”
Metzger also noted that the Honeybees should have good focus and intensity along with overall quickness.
“Volleyball is such a quick, fast game,” said Metzger, who started the volleyball programs in both De Leon and Granbury before beginning the Stephenville High School program in 1995. “It takes a lot of focus and intensity.”
The players lost to graduation were middle blockers Nicona Stilwell and Emily Brandon, along with setter Taylor Garber and defensive specialist Kylie Ponder.
Stilwell made the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s All-Star team as a junior, and was named Most Valuable Player in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ summer tournament.
“Emily and Nicona were very strong blockers,” Metzger said. “I think we gained consistency with our hitting (this season). And I think our passing and defense will be better.”
The returning lettermen are senior all-state libero Hailey Martin along with seniors, Kristen Pettit, Ashton Garner and Maren Isham; and juniors, Hannah Huckabee, Chloe Goodman, Faith O’Brien and Jayci Morton.
Others on the varsity roster include senior Lexie Sparks; juniors Savannah Ivey, Emily Stroebel and Destiny Hale; and sophomores Salette Rios and Gabie Lucero.
“My defensive players are a lot more consistent. That senior leadership contributes to the ball control,” Metzger noted. “We have some young, exciting hitters that are digging the ball off the floor well.”
Metzger seemed pleased with the improvement she has seen so far. That included a beneficial trip to Abilene for summer club play.
“I think they all worked hard,” said Metzger, who has reached the playoffs in all but three of her seasons as a head coach, winning a state title with the Honeybees in 2003.
The Honeybees won their bi-district playoff matchup over Fort Worth Castleberry last season, but were eliminated in the area round by Abilene Wylie.
Metzger expects Glen Rose to once again be a top contender for the district crown, with its key players returning. Midlothian Heritage gave the Honeybees a tough match in their second meeting last year, and could be a factor, she said, along with Godley, which has a new coach.
“I’m excited about this group,” Metzger said. “I think we are going to surprise some people.”
When asked about her ultimate expectation for this year’s crew, Metzger said, “To be at the state tournament. It’s always that. We set our goals high.”