WAXAHACHIE — Seemingly as soon as it started, summer will come to an end, marking the beginning of a new era of Waxahachie High School volleyball and a fresh season.
Almost less than a month to the Aug. 1 multi-level volleyball tryouts at George Solis Gymnasium, to be exact.
While household favorites like Essence Clerkley, Audrey Nalls, Taylor Stoops and Allie Wells, Head Coach Sandy Faussett will look to fill the collective shoes of Nikki Almaguer, Kendyll Armstrong, Amarie Hester, Shelby Martin, Hannah Ramirez, Megan Six, Madelyn Ward and Erika Weber.
The seven girls and one woman were part of the 2017 graduation class that walked off Waxahachie's graduation stage and into new lives as college students and a Cuero, Texas resident.
"I'm looking for these new kids to continue the tradition and bring the same type of work ethic and attitude from day one. That's what tradition's all about — the younger kids looking at what's happened before and trying to emulate those characteristics and the things those great players brought to the program," Faussett said about the loss of seven players vital to her court rotations.
The aforementioned eight, along with players like Destin Lott, Audrey Willett and Lindsey Williams, made up a core that helped the Lady Indians reach the University Interscholastic League 5A Regional Semifinal round three times in the last three years.
"There are no short cuts to being good," Faussett said, flashing one of her trademark grins. "You have to invest time and effort if you want to be great and you have to put in the hours."
It will be the same steely-eyed coach directing the production, but the cast of characters could have some interesting additions and valuable depth after the 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 1 through Aug. 3 freshmen, junior varsity and varsity tryouts at George W. Solis Gymnasium.
While all levels will complete the 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Physical Testing at Solis, freshmen will tryout between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 and between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 3.
Sophomore-level athletes will tryout between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 2. Eleventh and 12th-grade players will tryout between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Aug. 2.
Session attendees, which need a UIL physical on file before tryouts, will be tested on everything from 5X30 second drills to agility drills and vertical and broad jumps to skills tests for blocking, hitting, passing and setting. There will also be situational testing interwoven into the tryouts.
Faussett noted the makeup of the experience on her rosters, including the girls that will fill the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams, maybe some of the strongest in recent memory.
"If feel like the younger kids are going to challenge the older ones once they understand that 'when talent doesn't work hard, hard work beats talent,'" Faussett said. "I think you have to look at what we could be past grade classifications. We have four great seniors that are committed, reliable and bring a lot of leadership coming back to us this coming season but we have a lot of experience at our disposal. If you look at what our roster could be you may see a lot of junior and sophomore-level players but overall we're going to have more experience across the board — people used to being on the court with varsity time — than we've ever had."
She expects a large majority of those girls to come into the tryout sessions in shape. Faussett said that type of edge and advantage in invaluable in a volleyball season that speeds into district play faster than most think.
She noted incoming juniors Essence Clerkley, Audrey Nalls and Alli Wells and senior Sara Sims as examples of veteran leadership returning to the Lady Indian fold and pacesetters for offseason work ethic. Nalls, Sims, Wells and senior Taylor Stoops are also four of the six girls competing in the USA Juniors National Volleyball Championships in Minnesota this week.
Avoiding injuries by offering a Dana Scott-run offseason strength and conditioning program has been one reason Waxahachie High School's volleyball dominance has had such a shelf life. Day one fitness is another critical key.
"I think it's imperative we come back in great shape and we'll see where they are during tryouts. The season starts so quickly and because of that, we can't afford to ease into it. We have to hit the ground running and play some good, solid volleyball," Faussett said. "For us to do that, they've got to come back in shape. When that happens, we don't see a lot of pulled muscles and injuries that are caused by not being in shape. It's not a shock to their bodies when they come out here and turn it up a notch playing volleyball."
Waxahachie, not including the season-ending injury of future Texas A&M University Aggie Kendyll Armstrong in 2015, has escaped the injury bug. Injury, however, is only one of the twin peaks Faussett, her captains and the Lady Indians will have to scale in 2017.
The other mountain that awaits Waxahachie and the girls that hear their names called at the end of tryouts will be steep, Faussett said, given the improvement of the University Interscholastic League's 10-5A "District of Doom" from a year ago. That includes imposing obstacles like Mansfield Lake Ridge, Midlothian and Red Oak High Schools.
"It's so early, but I think we're going to have great team chemistry and be fundamentally very sound," she mused. "We'll need to those things because you don't want to lose points because you didn't handle the ball well or didn't know where you were supposed to be on the court — especially with the way the district looks this year. I think this is going to be the strongest district we've ever been in. It's been really strong the past two years and it continues to be strong but a number of young kids that are returning to our biggest competitors is going to make it a strong, strong district.
"It's going to be tough. We better be prepared and come out ready to fight every time. There are no days off and there are no breaks on the road to greatness."