With the school year winding down, preparations for the 2018 volleyball season are ramping up for the Italy Lady Gladiators.
And there is plenty for the Italy faithful to be excited about as they head into the new season and new district.
Italy will jump from District 12-2A into District 13-2A after the bi-annual UIL realignment in February.
The Lady Gladiators finished 8-2 in district action last season before bowing out in the bi-district round of the volleyball playoffs. They also had 11 players receive all-district recognition.
Italy head volleyball coach Shauna Steinmetz explained the team's success laid in their focus on the "bigger picture" and "what is truly the most important element in our lives."
In fact, Steinmetz felt the most important conversation she had with her team was after their playoff loss against Tom Bean.
She recalled walking the Lady Gladiators to the corner of the gymnasium — away from distractions — and saying, "Ladies, I see your disappointment, and I am truly disappointed myself. But, this reminds me of when my mother spoke to me about her journey with cancer."
Steinmetz continued, "She had it in six places, all over her body, and she told me that if one person discovered God and developed a relationship with Jesus Christ from watching her through this journey, then her battle was worth every minute. Heaven is our ultimate goal. There is a greater purpose to what you do on and off the court."
Steinmetz reminded the Lady Gladiators to show others how to handle adversity and victories in the same fashion — the way Jesus "would want us to."
"Of course, we were all in tears and came together for one more break out before loading the bus to head home. Our motto last season came from Colossians 3:23, and we will play with all of our hearts for God next season, too."
Steinmetz said the three seniors last season "had characteristics that coincided like nothing I have seen before."
Jenna Holden had the power above the net. Annie Perry was the spark plug. Brycelen Richards knew just how to manipulate the opponents' defense and set up her teammates for success.
"These seniors were incredible leaders, but they come from incredible parents who have instilled values and respect in these young ladies that pours out on the court," Steinmetz said. "When it was crunch time in various district matches, I watched as Annie would whisper in an underclassmen’s ear, and her teammate would smile as they came back from an error. Jenna showed poise in how she would take the underclassmen under her wing and would teach them on the court and when she was on the bench.
She continued, "Of course Annie and Jenna’s skill levels were an example in itself. Brycelen was our key district weapon. Her leadership, her energy, her positivity kept my young athletes on task. She also led our prayer time after each game with our opponents, and that is huge in my eyes."
Richards (54 kills, 52 aces, 48 digs, 327 assists) finished the year as the District 12-2A most valuable player. She was also named to the Texas High School Coaches Association's second-team all-state. Both Holden (80 kills, 12 aces, 41 digs) and Perry (57 kills, 21 blocks) were placed on the All-District 12-2A first-team, while Holden found herself on the THSCA second-team all-state list and Perry was a THSCA all-state honorable mention.
All three seniors were named to the all-district all-academic list and Texas Girls Coaches Association Academic All-State team.
Steinmetz stated that she had hoped to coach Holden and Perry one final time in June during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Victory Bowl, but a scheduling conflict knocked the two out of the games.
Steinmetz said that, after she coaches the red team in the volleyball all-star game, she will head over to the softball field to watch Richards.
"My seniors will be forever missed at Italy High School," Steinmetz added.
Steinmetz is excited about the eight returning Lady Gladiators who will comprise a team that "everyone in our new district should fear."
"They play with an incredible amount of heart and determination," she said.
The returners include Galvan, Courtney Riddle, Alex Jones, Karley Allyn Nelson, Shaniaya Johnson, and Avery Green.
"[They] will all have significant roles next year," Steinmetz said. "With input from assistant coaches like Tina Richards and Jennifer Reeves, we should have no problem returning to the playoffs next season. These women have truly inspired and helped me beyond what I could imagine."
Two of those players — Talton and Johnson — have already had quite a bit of success at the varsity level, too.
Talton (junior) was named the Al- District 12-2A Outstanding blocker after she recorded 34 blocks and 60 kills. Johnson (soph) was named the All-District 12-2A Defensive MVP. She recorded 40 digs, seven assists, 13 aces and 64 kills last season.
"Chardanae and Shaniaya have such a beautiful athleticism," Steinmetz said. "There was no surprise that the other coaches in our district saw that and voted for them to receive their superlatives."
She added, "Chardanae’s confidence has steadily grown this season, as well as, her love for the game. She is a powerhouse. Shaniaya can take any error or negative aspect and truly come out with a mind-blowing play.
"There were many times that coach Richards and I would say, ‘how did she do that?’ Shaniaya is the whole package, and that is a rarity. These two young ladies bring a smile to my face when I watch them do anything, but what is most exciting, is that I get to be their coach."
Other players who received all-district honors included:
Karley Nelson — 2nd team All-District; All-Academic
Hannah Haight — Honorable Mention All-District; All-Academic
Madison Galvan — Honorable Mention All-District; All-Academic
Taylor Boyd — Honorable Mention All-District; All-Academic
Courtney Riddle — Honorable Mention All-District; All-Academic
Alex Jones — 2nd team All-District; All-Academic
The 2018 volleyball season officially begins Aug. 1 with the issuing of equipment and coach-led workouts. Scrimmages begin as early as Aug. 3 and matches start Aug. 6.