RED OAK — Some argue that success is not measured in wins and losses, while others put quite a bit of stock into season standings and championships. For decades, fans of the Red Oak Lady Hawks fit into the latter crowd during a period of 25 consecutive undefeated runs through various district schedules.
Armed with 10 seniors fueled by the sting of a regional quarterfinal loss to a neighboring rival and led by a coach nearing a career wins milestone, the Lady Hawks are poised for success in 2017.
Head volleyball coach Hope Porter enters her eighth season in maroon with an experienced-laden and battled-tested core looking to build on the success garnered from a 32-win season in 2016.
“This is kind of a special group of girls. The majority of this group has been playing with me on the varsity since they were freshmen. Two years in a row we took our lumps, and it was hard, but they hung in there with me, and we kept hanging around and hanging around and finally last year we turned a couple tables. We are really looking to build on that (last year’s success).”
Coming off back-to-back seasons of postseason futility, the Lady Hawks, led by captains Kayla Brock (Lee College) and Alyssa Pevehouse (Dallas Baptist Univ.), reached the third round of the UIL 5A playoffs before falling in the fourth set to state-ranked Waxahachie. Porter said the coaching staff and players keep the sting from the loss fresh in their minds and she admits they have discussed the playoff exit “a lot.”
“There at the end of that fourth set, we touched a ball that I think was out of bounds that would have pushed it to five (sets) and I tell the girls all of the time that ‘You never know what could happen if you get to the fifth set,’” Porter explained. “I try to keep that fresh in their mind to use it as motivation and not as a detriment of a ‘We messed this up’ or ‘we made a mistake.’ We want to be there again, step in, take charge and not put ourselves in that kind of situation again. We do talk about it a lot.”
If the Lady Hawks repeat their win total from last season, Porter will surpass the 300-win milestone in just her ninth season as a head coach. After one year in Coolidge (1993, 27-4) and eight in Red Oak, Porter has compiled a 271-104 record (72.3-winning percentage).
She has also led teams to a combined 103-27 record (79.2-winning percentage) in district play. Forty-one of her overall — and 19 district — losses came during the 2014-15 seasons.
SETTING THE ROTATION
A team laden with senior leadership will have three from the class of 2018 serve as captains — Emily North, Serena Patterson and Lilli Ratliff.
North and Patterson return after all-district seasons in 2016, during which Patterson led District 10-5A with 268 blocks and North totaled 578 assists, 264 digs and 250 kills while serving as a six-rotation player. Patterson has previously committed to continuing her playing career at the University of Texas at El Paso, while Emily North committed to Texas A&M — Kingsville over the summer.
Senior Katie Hess will also continue to hold down a spot in the starting rotation as an outside hitter after her 2016 all-district campaign concluded with 371 kills. Hess committed to Grand Canyon University last season, where she will join the beach volleyball team.
“We have a lot of experience on the front row. It is exciting and I am anxious to see — if we can stay injury free and everything goes as planned — how the season ends up,” Porter said. “We do have a lot of experience, though, and most of these seniors have been playing varsity ball since their freshman year. It is time, kind of, for their hard work to start paying off.”
On the move is varsity returner, Hailey Hunt. The sophomore shuffled from outside hitter to middle blocker and Porter explained the coaching staff is “pushing her pretty hard to make that transition.”
Though not directly related to the knee injury suffered by Keyeria Tyeskie in January, the change in position for Hunt will help to absorb the senior’s absence and provide the Lady Hawks with a little more versatility upon her return. Tyeskie has been cleared to begin light volleyball-specific activities and is hopeful to return early on during the district schedule.
On the back row, Ratliff is competing with fellow senior and Houston Baptist University commit, Kylie Bryan, for the starting libero position. Porter said either girl is more than capable of regularly wearing the alternate jersey and feels confident in their ball-control skills.
“Lilli has kind of been the mother of the group. I can’t remember her missing one summer workout and she was here pushing everybody. She has stepped up to be a pretty good leader for us.”
In addition to Bryan and Ratliff, senior Kennedy Mcruffin is another one of the defensive specialists that Porter said will add depth to their talented back row. She also noted that, because of the ball-control talent the Lady Hawks have on the back row, it will be difficult for any player to be a true six-rotation contributor this season — which is not so much a knock, as it is an embarrassment of riches.
“Right now I am looking at (Emily North) and one other to possibly play all six spots and I actually have about three kids who I could pencil in to be a six-rotation player,” Porter explained. “But, we have such good (defensive specialists) that do such a good job on the back row that it makes it difficult for those front row kids to get the back row time because I am going to put the kid out there who can ball control best.”
“The seniors have become a really close group over the years,” Porter added. “[…] When they first came in as freshmen they were kind of stand-off-ish from the upper classmen and were kind of separate entities because there was such a large number of them. It is not that way anymore.”
Porter used sophomore outside hitter, Katelyn Malone as an example of a younger player who quickly acclimated to the varsity squad. Malone played on the freshman team last season.
“They have been very welcoming in engaging with her. I see them being much more close-knit group than they were three years ago and I think that is going to carry over onto the floor. […] Our motto is still that we are going to take it one match at a time and one set at a time and see where it gets us. We are trying not to look too far ahead.”