The volleyball season is well underway for the Midlothian Lady Panthers. It is also the first time for the program to open the season under the same head coach it ended the previous one with in half of a decade.
That fact has Midlothian head volleyball coach Shain Sackett fired up for the program.
"I'm very excited for them because now they have some stability," Sackett told the Mirror after the Lady Panthers opened the season with a pair of wins against Waco Connally and Carrollton Ranchview this past week.
"They weren't that fortunate the past four years, so to be able to stay here and work with them again and them not have to learn anything really new because they know me and they know the system. It is a great place to work. I love this place."
The Lady Panthers won a bi-district championship in Sackett's first year at the helm, ultimately finishing second to Red Oak in a tough District 10-5A with a 10-2 record and 27-13 overall.
To repeat or build on that success, Midlothian will need to replace a couple key contributors lost to graduation.
"We brought up a bunch of kids to fill in the seven spots that graduated last year," Sackett said. "They are new, and it's going to take us a little bit of time to gel. But they are working, and that is about all that I can ask of them. I'll put them through things and they can either do or they don't — and right now they do."
For starters, the Lady Panthers are without the services of All-Ellis County Player of the Year finalist Samantha Rodgers, who walked the graduation stage in May and has begun her first season Sam Houston State University.
Rodgers was also named the District 14-5A Hitter of the Year after she compiled team-highs in kills (527), hitting percentage (.316) and aces (48). She also added 84 total blocks (54 solos) and 434 digs in 118 sets.
The Lady Panthers will also be without the services of since-graduated Kelby Buchanan and Aliyah Muhammad.
Buchanan, a senior libero and outside hitter for the Lady Panthers, was named the District 14-5A Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. She finished the season with a team-high 603 digs and 235 service points (34 aces). Muhammad contributed 217 kills and posted a team-high 89 blocks during her senior campaign.
The Lady Panthers do, however, return experience in key positions, such as with junior setter Aryn Walton.
Walton shared the District 14-5A Setter of the Year honors with Joshua senior Kaitlyn Stone. She accounted for a district-high 1,217 assists and added 333 digs, 55 blocks 46 aces and 95 kills.
"We have some seniors in some key roles, as far as right side play and juniors and sophomore who are really filling out the roster extremely well as first-year starters," Sackett said. "It's a good mix. It's a good mix of youth and experience, and they are helping each other along right now."
Three of those seniors are Kaylie Vasil, Skylor Lewis and Madeline Smith.
Vasil recorded 223 kills, 38 aces, 159 service points, 22 blocks, 134 digs in 2018 for the Lady Panthers. Lewis added 237 kills and 21 blocks, while Smith accounted for 22 aces, 189 service points, 316 digs and 77 assists.
All three were named to All-District 14-5A teams, as was junior Karsyn Curry after she posted 28 aces, 186 service points and 380 digs.
The Lady Panthers improved to 7-1 on the season Tuesday with a home win against Trimble Tech.
Midlothian is also fresh off of a fantastic showing in the annual Bell Bev Classic in Abilene.
The Lady Panthers opened the tournament by sweeping their four pool games against Frisco Leadership Prep, Abilene High, Sweetwater and Holliday. They then bowed out of the tournament in the Gold Bracket on Saturday.
Midlothian returns to action Friday and Saturday in the Allen Texas Open and will then face Waxahachie in a non-district road match on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
"We have some things to do at the net, little ticky-tack things with blocking and stuff like that, but, for the most part, it was a really good night tonight," Sackett told the Mirror.
Fred Phipps/Mirror contributed to this report.