Two key middle blockers for the Stephenville volleyball team have stepped up this season to help the Honeybees learn to win after losing several key seniors from last year's regional tournament team, including collegiate standout Kourtney Seaton.

Nicole Stilwell and Emily Brandon, both 6-0 ft. seniors and two-time second-team all-district performers, are making an impact on the team as “tremendous blockers,” according to head volleyball coach Fran Metzger. Stilwell (26.3 percent) and Brandon (22.2 percent) are the team leaders in hitting percentage.

“One of the strong points on the team is blocking, and they add a lot to that. And they’ve both worked hard to get to that,” said Metzger, whose team is 16-14 overall after winning its first two district matches. “They are both good leaders, and you can tell the kids have faith in them.”

Seaton graduated last spring, and is playing volleyball for NCAA Division I Northwestern State University in Louisiana.

Going into Friday’s match against Alvarado, Stilwell recorded 34 blocks and 33 assisted blocks in 29 outings. Brandon was second with 29 blocks and 16 assisted blocks. Stilwell tops the Honeybees in average kills per game, with 3.1, while Jayci Morton is next at 2.3. Stilwell has a significant lead in attack kills, with 234. Second is Morton with 169.

Stilwell said she’s enjoying her fourth varsity season so much that she has regained a kind of a childlike love for the sport she had when she first started taking volleyball seriously in the 6th or 7th grade.

“I love it. It’s just what I do,” said Stilwell, who became a starter about halfway through her sophomore year. “Last year was fun, but this year (the fun factor) is different.”

Brandon said, “I’m having a ton of fun with these girls. They’re amazing. It’s great to be able to play with (Stilwell). She’s an amazing player and a great leader.”

Seaton was a tough act to follow, but Stilwell said she and Brandon have been trying to make up for her absence.

“For me and Emily to step up was kind of crazy,” Stilwell said. “I was not expecting us to do as well as we have. Defensively, we’re getting our hands on as many blocks as possible.”

Stilwell said her biggest improvement over last season has been her hitting.

“I think my self confidence has gone up, too,” said Stilwell, who is also a cheerleader for SHS. “Being a senior and knowing I have to be a leader helps a lot.”

Brandon also said that having Stilwell as a teammate and a co-leader is beneficial, along with the contributions from the younger players — who can be more emotional but occasionally lose focus.

“I think the dynamic of it works well together,” said Brandon, who started a few games last season as a junior. “To have the older girls and to have the fire of the younger girls, it works really well. It’s really good to have that balance.”

Stilwell was chosen as a Texas Girls Coaches Association all-star volleyball player after last season. Brandon would love to gain similar accolades, including first-team all-district, this season.

“I’m looking forward to upping my game,” Brandon said, noting that she wants to improve by being “smarter” with her hitting and “being able to put it down with more consistency — being able to get my hands on every ball possible.”

Brandon is looking forward to a potential postseason berth for the Honeybees.

“I think we’ve got a good chance to go pretty far,” said Brandon, who also plays varsity basketball. “We’ve got a very well-rounded team. We’re good at coming back from a bad point, and we’re good about picking each other up.”