'Playing for forever'

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
Natalie Tiner

Stephenville (17-16) may not own the best record entering District 7-3A play, but senior middle blockers Natalie Tiner and Dani Huckabee believe the Honeybees have the most prepared team.

And with a four-match win streak to conclude pre-district action, the Bees also have one of the hottest teams around.

Stephenville begins district play in Venus at 4:30 p.m. today. The game was originally scheduled to be in Stephenville, but the home-and-home series was flipped to accommodate homecoming night in Venus.

"We finally fell into a groove and now we're working well together," said Tiner of the Bees' recent tear that included a four-set win over 4A Granbury, sweeps of 3A Graham and West and a four-set defeat of 3A Robinson.

"Granbury was definitely where we definitely started clicking," said Huckabee. "We started seeing some of the little things come together and started winning some of the close games we weren't winning before."

Tiner believes the win at Granbury's James Waan Sports Complex was huge for the team.

"In past years Granbury's come out and beat us, sometimes in three sets," Tiner said. "I think we've realized, we're just as good as these teams, we just have to come out and play all out; not be nervous or anything, just go out and get it."

That's what the Bees have done ever since and what they plan to continue in 7-3A.

"We were talking about how we aren't even ranked, but we're used to that because we play such a tough schedule," Huckabee said. "I would rather play tough teams like (Austin Westlake, Amarillo Tascosa and others) and be prepared than play an easy schedule and be ranked but be unprepared."

The Bees aren't just a team built on preparation, the seniors say, but on chemistry as well. That's something they had a head start on with eight returning lettermen, six of them seniors.

"We're real tight; we do everything together. It's like we have a team family," said Huckabee. "We push each other, we play for each other and we win for each other."

Tiner couldn't agree more.

"Even with the new people (seniors Hailey Morales and Morgan Croslin) we added, they fit right in. Everyone gets along and there's no drama; just the same focus and the same goals."

The two seniors also agree on those goals.

"We plan on going all the way to state," said Huckabee. "I know that sounds kind of cliche, but we genuinely believe we have a great chance."

"That is the ultimate goal - to get to state. We've always believed we could do it, but I think we believe more this year than any other," Tiner said. "That's the big goal; our short term goal is just to take it one match at a time and not overlook anyone."

That's what the Bees say happened to them in their bi-district loss to Arlington Seguin a year ago.

"We won the district championship and then just lost in the first (playoff) match," Tiner said, as if Huckabee needed a reminder.

"Discipline," Huckabee announced as the Bees' need. "We have to play up to our level consistently. We can't let any team or anything bring our level down."

Because it takes a consistently high level to make a deep run in the playoffs - something everyone dreams of doing - especially in their senior year.

"We've always tried as hard as we could and we've always wanted it just as bad, but this year it all feels a little more special," said Tiner.

"This is our senior year, so we'll always remember it," Huckabee said. "Before we were just playing for that year, but now we're playing for forever."

Follow the Bees throughout 7-3A on Twitter @etsports