One would be hard-pressed to find a deeper and more experienced roster in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex than the 2018 Waxahachie Lady Indians volleyball team.
Led by all-everything standout and TCU-commit, Audrey Nalls, the Lady Indians return all but three players from last year's 31-15 squad that reached the 5A Region II semifinals before falling to Lucas Lovejoy in three sets. Most of those losses though, came with Nalls sidelined with a back injury. Though no coach wants a player to go down with an injury, with Nalls on the mend, the younger Lady Indians gained invaluable experience that is sure to benefit "big time" this season, explained head coach Sandy Faussett.
“What is good about it is that last year we went into it and knew we didn’t have a ton of experience. We knew that Nalls, Taylor [Stoops] and Alli [Wells] were going to have to play major roles and then, of course, we didn’t have Nalls," she explained. "I talk a lot about last year because I think [the underclassmen] did such an amazing job with the lack of experience that we had because it takes a while to get into a comfort level to play at a high tempo and at the varsity level. I feel like it has really helped us for this season. They gained some very valuable experiences.”
In addition to the court time and success gained last season, several Lady Indians also helped their club teams to national tournament appearances over the summer.
Nalls, Wells and Ragan Ward all finished third with their respective teams in the Open division of US Nationals, which is the highest division of the most competitive national tournament of the year. Lacy Mott and Essence Clerkly both competed in the USA division, one step down from Open, and also excelled.
Two more Lady Indians — Baylee Whitehead and Kate Morgan — competed in the AAU national tournament, which is a separate, larger tournament from the US Nationals that does not require teams to qualify.
“Our kids are playing all of the time now. […] We have a lot of kids putting extra time in and it is really paying off for them. They look awesome. I can’t wait for the first day.”
NEW FACES AND ONE TO WATCH
For the first time since Faussett has led the Lady Indian program, the varsity team was largely in place before school let out for the summer. She also made it clear that the final roster is not set in stone, as younger players and transfers still have an opportunity to impress the coaching staff and snag a roster spot.
“We felt like there just wasn’t a lot of uncertainty, at all. We were just moving the same kids over [to the varsity] every time, and we said we just felt like we could make the team right now, so we did," she explained of announcing the varsity roster in the spring.
The three additions, so far, to this year’s squad are seniors Fayth Hunt and Becca Pulfer, and sophomore Kate Morgan.
Hunt and Pulfer gained invaluable experience on the junior varsity last season and are “high-level talent.”
“Kate Morgan gets better leaps and bounds day-to-day. She is an outside hitter and defensive player for us and is the only sophomore we have playing up, so she is obviously pretty talented to make this roster," Faussett added.
One returner that Faussett looks to build on a successful junior campaign is Courtney Crownover. The outside hitter recorded 147 kills on 393 attempts over 106 sets played in 2017, while also posting 40 blocks.
“Courtney is really looking good right now,” Faussett added of the dynamic and energetic outside hitter who recently accepted an offer (verbal) to play Division II volleyball at Arkansas Fort Smith. “I think that has been a big deal for her because she is playing with so much confidence right now from what I have seen at open gym. She is just banging the ball.”
The Lady Indians began the season schedule with a scrimmage Saturday afternoon and will now start regular-season play at 6 p.m. Tuesday at home against Prosper, the defending 5A state champion.
“We go ahead and just jump right in,” said Faussett with a snicker.
Waxahachie ISD will formally dedicate the new gymnasium in honor of longtime coach, administrator and radio color commentator, Mike Turner, ahead of the non-district tilt against Red Oak at about 5:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13.
Much like in years past, Faussett stacked the pre-district schedule with plenty of worthy opponents, both in single games and tournament play, such as Midway (Aug. 14), Granbury (Aug. 28), Forney (Sept. 4) and the field of the Lone Star Classic.
“I’ve always stuck to the mindset that you have to use the pre-district to get as good as you can,” Faussett added.
Waxahachie then heads into District 7-6A action at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 at home against Grand Prairie.
The Lady Indians made the jump to Class 6A with familiar opponents in Mansfield Lake Ridge and Mansfield Summit, who all join Grand Prairie, South Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Mansfield and DeSoto in a district that, while tough, is no District 10-5A.
“It’s weird because the teams that we are bringing from our old district are some of the best teams,” Faussett explained. She noted the trio led by Madison Williams at Mansfield Lake Ridge and Molly Phillips (?) at Mansfield High, both University of Texas commits, and Azhani Tealer at South Grand Prairie will still force the Lady Indians to bring their A game each night.
“It’s going to be fun,” she added. “[…] I am super excited and looking forward to the season.”