By TONY EIERDAM
The Mineral Wells Lady Rams recently completed the most successful season in school history when it won its first-ever playoff match and qualified for the second round of the playoffs.
Although the season came to an end in the area playoffs, it was a team that will be remembered for a very long time and a squad that set the standard for MWHS volleyball teams in the future.
Lady Rams head coach Taylor Eggleston, in her fourth year at MWHS and third as head coach, hopes this season has set a foundation for next year and years to come.
“It was definitely a successful season,” Eggleston said. “There was nothing I could say to the team after we lost to Liberty Hill to make that pain go away, but I told them that not only was I proud of what they accomplished, but their parents, the school and the community were equally proud of them.”
Eggleston will say goodbye to seniors Taylor Parkhill, Niya Benavides, Cassidee McCluskey, Kelsey Garland, Emily Clingings, Sami Stevens, Chandler Ortiz, Hali King, Miranda Watkins, Sydney Shelstead and Shay Douglas.
“I know its sounds cliché to say but you can’t put how much the seniors meant me in words, you truly can’t,” Eggleston said. “They have been the backbone of the program. They all, even the move ins like Shay (Douglas) and Sydney (Shelstead), took on the life of being a Lady Ram and embodied everything we wanted to portray in our program.”
Last year, the Lady Rams failed to reach the postseason. Eggleston said the difference between this year and last year was the girls’ approach to the game.
“This year we communicated really well,” Eggleston said. “I think that was huge. This year, they had the mentality that they wanted to be successful and do whatever it took to achieve success.
“They were also very outspoken about it. I feel when you are outspoken about it, you believe it because everyone is onboard. The girls believed in each other.”
Eggleston used most, if not all, of non-district play to tinker with different combinations of players. Besides move ins Shelstead and Douglas, several others came up from last year’s junior varsity.
“With some new players, the entire non-district portion of the season was a process,” Eggleston said. “There were a couple of matches where we took a step backwards, but I was also switching people around to different positions.
“I liked the way we competed against Azle, and I thought we were making progress after playing well at the competitive Saginaw tournament.”
Eggleston felt the team had turned the corner after a District 6-3A season-opening loss to Kennedale, a tight match that went to five games. She felt her team could compete with any team after that match.
The Lady Rams fell twice to Kennedale and state-ranked No. 7 Springtown in district play, but MWHS played close in all four matches – matches that could have gone either way.
The Lady Rams went 6-0 in district play against Diamond Hill, Lake Worth and Castleberry and finished in third place to qualify for the playoffs.
“That first Kennedale match lit a fire underneath my kids,” she said. “No one gave us a chance against Kennedale in the opener, but we got out there and battled and took it to five games. That match could have gone either way. We knew we were good after that match.
“The Springtown matches were also huge battles, and to take a game from Springtown in both matches was a big deal. In both matches game four was extremely close.
“We got better playing Kennedale and Springtown.”
The Lady Rams were aggressive from the start in the bi-district playoffs against Iowa Park. MWHS swept the Lady Hawks – the second-place team from District 5-3A – to win the school’s first-ever playoff volleyball match.
“That match showed us how far our program has come,” Eggleston said. “The way the girls came out and played awesome against Iowa Park, and it was such a rewarding feeling as a coach.
“I felt like we had really done something, and I loved that, and we did this together. We win together and we lose together, and this match proved we are a good team.
“That was a great night for Mineral Wells volleyball. We ended up losing in the next round, but this program took a step forward this year.”
Eggleston will have a chore next season in replacing 11 seniors, but she said this year’s senior class left behind not only a legacy, but how to go about being successful as well.
“The returning varsity members know how much work needs to be put in to be successful, and there will be a lot of big shoes to fill next year,” Eggleston said. “Big shoes to fill, but we will have the people there to do it.
“If they choose to put in the time and effort, then they can be just as good. It is up to them if they are willing to do the small things. That was what this year’s seniors did – put in the work over the summer and worked hard once we started practicing at school.
“And not one of them complained, no matter how long practices were. I am excited for next year.”
Eggleston said she and her team noticed all of the support given to them by the school and community. On the night the Rams football team was playing at Springtown, the Lady Rams had a nice fan base travel two hours to Bangs to watch the second-round playoff match.
“We want to thank everyone for supporting us from the students to the school to the community,” Eggleston said. “We had more people come out to our games this year than ever before. We had a lot of people show up for both of our playoff matches, and they were making noise and holding up signs.
“We noticed all of the support, and it meant so much to our team. That showed us everyone believed in us, and that motivated the team.”
By TONY EIERDAM
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