Midlothian's entrance into 5A could cause shake-up of one of the state's toughest conferences

When the 2016 volleyball season begins anew on Aug. 8, Ellis County will have three teams vying for the newly-minted 10-5A district title.

Both Midlothian High School’s drop to the 5A conference in April and the hire of head volleyball coach Mary Malone on May 2, threatens to reshuffle an already competitive first through fourth standings battle, which has Waxahachie and Red Oak and Mansfield Summit, Lake Ridge, Legacy and Timberview high schools in the mix.

“Midlothian’s always been a solid program, but my goal is to take them from being solid to competing in the regional and state tournament yearly,” Malone said. “We lost a huge group of seniors this year. I’m coming in with a division of the city with Midlothian Heritage across town and the girls are very young, but they want to learn.”

Malone, a former two-year Ferris High School head volleyball and track and field coach, replaced one-and-done volleyball coach Prentice Lewis, who resigned with MISD in April to accept the head volleyball coaching position at the University of Dallas.

Before coaching at Ferris, Malone compiled a 175-141 overall record and a .554 winning percentage, usually facing tough non-conference schedules.

During her eight seasons at Temple College, the Lady Leopards qualified for seven consecutive NJCAA tournaments between 2006 and 2012 and won seven Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference tournament titles.

The teams also won six consecutive regular-season NTJCAC championships from 2006-11.

She will have a steep hill to climb after the loss of seniors Tarin Mergener, Hanah Roark, Eliza Patzig, Morgan and Taylor Huffstutler Morgan Griffin and CeCe Madison. Only four players, sophomores Kamryn Owen and Sydney Little and juniors Reagan Deese and Emalee Lowe, will return from a team that went 28-16 overall and 9-3 in district 8-6A under the guidance of Lewis last season.

“You’re always going to have some bumps and bruises when you go through a coaching change because the philosophies are usually different. I know they lost a lot of players, but traditionally they’re a strong team with sound fundamentals. They’ve also got coach Malone, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about,” said Sandy Faussett, the 15-year Lady Indians head volleyball coach. “When Midlothian and Waxahachie were in the same district, it was a great rivalry for us. We were both well coached and equally matched and the kids knew each other well — which is the formula for creating a great rivalry.”

Malone added her newly formed core of Owen, Little, Deese and Lowe have been responsive since the day she was hired and though young, have the will and desire to push the program far in their first year together.

A potential roadblock to that growth and a playoff berth in a wide-open and brand new district could be that cross county rivalry with the Waxahachie Lady Indians and Faussett.

Last season, the Lady Indians finished 15-1 in district 14-5A and came within two games of the University Interscholastic League 5A state title game.

Faussett said one of the biggest disadvantages volleyball has that sports like basketball don’t, is the lack of a long offseason. It’s a short acclimation period combined with a storied history of battles that Malone will face before her girls play WHS on Sept. 13 at George W. Solis Gymnasium.

“When they left our district, we still played them and the matches were ones which had a lot of spectators and school pride,” Faussett said. “It’s a friendly rivalry, but we still want to go in there and win and have bragging rights for the year. What Midlothian coming into the district did was raise the standard and made it tougher than it’s ever been. We lost two teams (Ennis and Arlington Seguin high schools), but that one team made the district tougher.”

Faussett said another impediment Malone may face is the difference in competition level from 3A to 5A, citing the size of the pool of athletes as the biggest determining factor of talent. Faussett knows about the disparity in level of ability of the two classes all too well. She was a 23-year-old basketball and track coach at 2A Bangs High School before becoming the head volleyball coach at 5A Greenville High School.

“The athletes are bigger and faster because you’re picking from a bigger pool of kids,” Faussett said. “You may walk into a gym (at the 5A level) and be able to pick from a student body that consists of 200 females as opposed to 50 females (at a 3A school). Not to say there aren’t really strong 2A and 3A teams, but typically when you get to 5A and 6A, it’s a faster-paced game.”

For any coach other than Malone, tackling the daunting task of making the leap from 3A Ferris to 5A Midlothian, may be difficult. She, however, has experience and a track record, which may trump the three-conference jump into the major high school circuit spotlight.

Midlothian’s newest Lady Panther leader said she is not only familiar with both the rivalry between Midlothian and Waxahachie sports and the former’s rich sports history, she’s been in a position where she’s had to rapidly rebuild and retool a program.

“I didn’t recruit any of those girls my first year at Temple College,” Malone said. “We struggled the first year, but went to nationals every year after that. I had to do the same thing during my one year at Irving (High School). They went from being last in the district to making the playoffs.”

Contact the Waxahachie Daily Light sports desk at 469-517-1454 or kmatthews-marion@waxahachietx.com. Follow Khris on Twitter at @Khris2MarionWNI and the Daily Light on both Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation or alert the sports desk on Twitter by using #WDLsports.