Thu, Aug. 23, 2012 - [Volleyball]
Tyler Junior College volleyball coach Ronda Shirley stands amid a flurry of players surveying the product of her recruiting efforts - a dozen eager, talented, and somewhat timid freshmen.
It's only the first weeks of practice, but Shirley is confident the new recruits, mixed with four returning players, represent the ingredients needed to make a cohesive team.
"I think they're still not sure what to expect . . . they're concerned about being freshmen," she said. "It will just take awhile for them to grab hold . . . and be confident."
With as many as three practices a day, Shirley is hoping to speed up the learning curve for a team the NJCAA already considers No. 2 in the nation behind the College of Southern Idaho.
The Apache Ladies were ranked at No. 3 last season, their highest ranking until this year.
Shirley, who is entering her third season as the head coach, said the ranking is flattering, but it shouldn't put pressure on the team to live up to a number.
"I'm trying to get them to not feel the pressure of it (ranking), but turn it around and let them take pride in that," the coach said. "It's not about where people think we should be, but where we think we should be."
The Apaches Ladies ended last season with a 24-6 record - a significant turnaround from a 17-22 finish the previous year. This season the team also faces a restructured schedule considering NJCAA redistricting efforts and other issues.
TJC rivals San Jacinto College and Blinn College are no longer in the conference and Lon Morris College discontinued volleyball after the school declared bankruptcy in July.
The Apache Ladies split matches with San Jacinto last season - both times forcing five sets - and lost twice to Blinn. San Jacinto is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the pre-season NJCAA poll.
Shirley said the Apaches would likely play both teams this season in regional and tournament play.
She said there are no sure wins in this season's schedule that begins Friday at home with the Dana Hatch Invitational Tournament.
"Whether it is Panola, Paris, TVCC … anyone in our conference really … you want to take seriously when you step onto the court," the coach said.
For the Apaches, returning players consist of first team all-American Jaqueline Santos from Brazil, first team all-regional player Ivana Bulajic from Serbia; and Adrienn Amaro and Lindsey Jones, both from Kansas.
Shirley said the returnees ground the team in strength, experience and leadership and she hopes they set an example for the freshmen players.
The freshmen make up about 87 percent of the team - a percentage a little higher than what Coach Shirley expects at the junior college level.
"I really would like to see it about half and half," she said.
When recruiting, Shirley said she looks for a player who is talented, goes over and above what is expected and is willing to be part of the reason why the team is successful, not THE reason.
"I believe we have a good mix . . . some standouts and some role players, who contribute just as much if not more to the team," Shirley said.
This year's field of freshmen are: Jackie Perez, Baytown; Isabell Krahl, Germany; Kodie Patterson, who played on a 2011 state championship team in Georgia; Malicia Fluellen, Channelview; Ashleigh Overhoff, a 2011 District Setter of the Year from Kingwood; Blair Russell, an all-state team selection from Kansas; Wesli Vincent, a 2011 Defensive Player of the Year from Groves; Hannah Robey from Longview; Jessica Cloud, a 2011 first team all-district player from Beaumont; Samantha Llamas, Corinth; Brett Peveto, a 2011 first team all-district from Orange; and Jordan McArdle, a 2010 first team all-district player from Crosby.
This crop of newcomers is learning fast through a rigorous practice schedule in which the coach expects to competitiveness and improvement.
"I talk to them a lot about getting 1 percent better every day . . . because total change is a building process," she said.
As for team goals, the coach said she is honing in on developing the skills of each individual player so that the team as a whole can become competitive and consistent.
"Being competitive and consistent means not letting a bad play snowball . . . and being able to rebound," Shirley said. "Consistent teams are extremely hard to beat."
Article Courtesy Tyler Morning Telegraph