By TONY EIERDAM
It will simply take some time for the Mineral Wells Lady Rams volleyball team.
With just two starters returning and none on the front row, Lady Rams head coach Taylor Eggleston used a variety of combinations, particularly on the front row, to find out which players work best together.
The coach wants to use the first month of the season – which includes three tournaments, a dual and five matches – to find the best combination knowing a match may be sacrificed in order to gain a better understanding of her personnel.
Tuesday night in the season opener against Millsap at the MWHS gym, Eggleston found out there is still a lot of work to be done before she announces who her starters will be once district play arrives in September.
Paced by an aggressive front row, Millsap defeated the Lady Rams, 25-21, 19-25, 25-20, 25-21 as Lady Bulldogs hitters Katie Rich and Hannah Hobson combined for 21 kills.
Rich led all hitters with 13 kills, with Hobson adding eight. Hobson also recorded a pair of blocks.
“This win is huge for us,” Millsap head coach Kaycee Venecamp said. “It is a good way to start our season, and we came out playing aggressively. We are young overall, but the young players are not afraid to play aggressively.
“Katie is our senior middle, and she was on. Courtney Coker is doing a great job setting up the hitters, and she is doing big things for us.”
Outside hitter Scarlett Eaton, a newcomer to varsity, led the Lady Rams with eight kills.
“This is why we have a pre-district season,” Eggleston said. “This was just one match, and we need to move in the right direction. I take the blame in some parts, but at the same time our girls have to have the desire to get out there and find themselves a role on this team.”
Eggleston did see some positives during the match.
“I felt like there was some high points, but I also saw a lot of mental mistakes that turned into points for (Millsap),” she said. “We have a lot to work on. This is a rebuilding year, and I have to find the combination that works together.
“I told the girls there are spots that are open, and I need people to step up and into those roles.”
Eggleston was pleasantly surprised with Eaton, the most consistent MWHS hitter on Tuesday. She was also pleased with senior hitter Ashlynn Robinson, who has dealt with leg injuries all through high school but is healthy now.
“Ashlynn did really well on timing on high sets in the middle,” Eggleston said.”She also got (two) blocks from the middle.
“Sydney’s (Vasquez) serves were excellent, and Scarlett definitely surprised me. She did a good job and kept us in every game with timely kills. That was a good surprise.”
The Lady Rams jumped out to a 10-4 lead in game one, but Millsap came back with a 10-4 run of its own to square the opener.
The lead changed hands four times and was tied on five occasions, the fifth making the score 20-20.
Millsap led 22-21 before a kill by Rich brought the opener to game point. MWHS followed with consecutive return errors as the Lady Bulldogs took game one.
A pair of aces by senior libero Bethany Allen and a kill by Robinson gave the Lady Rams a quick 5-2 lead in game two. MWHS extended its lead to 11-5, but just like in game two, the Lady Bulldogs rallied to tie the score at 14-14 thanks in part by three consecutive kills by Hobson to close a 12-9 run.
With the Lady Rams leading 20-18, varsity newcomer Sydney Vasquez served consecutive aces to increase the MWHS advantage to 22-18. Millsap closed the game with two return errors and a service error as the Lady Rams squared the match with a six-point win.
Millsap never trailed in game three. The Lady Bulldogs raced out to a 5-1 lead and built a 23-11 cushion. But the never-say-die Lady Rams came back with seven consecutive points – thanks in part to five Millsap return errors and helped by another ace from Vasquez and a kill from Bailey Simonton – to cut the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 23-18.
However, a Lady Rams’ return error brought the contest to game point, and three rallies later a MWHS service error gave Millsap the point it needed to seal the contest.
Game four was a seesaw affair that saw seven lead changes before settling at 21-21. Millsap’s front row went to work from there.
Rich had a pair of kills, and Hobson, off a pinpoint cross-court feed from Coker, added a stopper to give the Lady Bulldogs a 24-21 lead and bring the game to match point.
On the ensuing rally, MWHS was charged with a double-hit violation that ended the match.
Eggleston said the team will move forward and try to correct mistakes.
“I am ready for it, and I think they will be ready for challenges,” Eggleston said. “The challenge will come again this weekend at the Boswell tournament where we will be the only Class 3A team there.
“The tournament will be tough, but it will make us stronger.”