Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

August 9, 2013

GC Volleyball Preview: Corsicana has speed, high hopes

By MikePhillips
Associated Press

New York — Speed.

They say it kills.

That’s just fine with the Corsicana volleyball team. After all, that’s the whole idea this year — speed up the game and produce more kills.

It’s fast and furious with a touch of bump-set-kill.

“Our game is so much faster,’’ said Briana Biltz, the team’s senior setter and one of the leaders for the Tigers. “And it’s so much better.’’

Biltz even talks fast about the new game at Corsicana, her words a metaphor to just how fast things have changed for the Tigers.

“Quicker passes, quicker sets, quicker kills,’’ Biltz said in rapid speech, spitting out the words like a machine gun, tat-tat-tat.

Blame the new NASCAR approach to volleyball on Ashley Grace, a smart and savvy coach who has brought a new strategy and a new energy to Corsicana’s program — and a winning mentality.

“I feel like it’s a new beginning for the program because of the new coach,’’ said MaKenzie Lee, a senior and one of the leaders of the team. “I like her mindset. It’s the mindset we needed to win.’’

Grace, 33, grew up in Kerens and coached as an assistant at Mildred before going to Mineola and turning the program around there. Mineola’s program was struggling when Grace arrived, and three years later her team had made back-to-back trips to the playoffs and was ranked 15th in the state.

She left Mineola when her husband Cody got a job as an assistant coach at Corsicana. She was hired and she coached the JV team last year. That team went 17-4.

“We’re excited about the new season,’’ Biltz said. “The new offense is something different for all of us to learn, but on the first day of practice we were killing it.’’

Grace changed the defense, too, and the kids on her team want to change — they want to win.

“They all have to buy into the program,’’ Grace said. “And I think they have. After the first practice you could see the energy was there, and the want-to-do-more and the want-to-get-better was extremely present.’’

Biltz and Lee both started last year and will be counted on to lead the team this year, and the Tigers bring back Cecilia Lopez, a 5-4 senior, and Jenny Garcia, a 5-3 senior, who are defensive specialists.

Mckala Goodwin, a 5-9 senior, played some at outside hitter last year and sophomores Mychellette Andrews, a 5-9 hitter, and Teleia Braziel, a defensive specialist, both moved up from the JV team to the varsity last year and played during the second half of the season.

Biltz’s younger sister, Caroline, is a 5-9 freshmen who could help the team as an outside hitter. Caroline played for the Waco 14-and-under club team that finished third in a national tournament this summer.

“She’s an up and coming freshman who could have an impact on our season as an outside hitter,’’ Grace said. “They all have a role on the team, and they are all important to the program.’’

Corsicana will have 12 players and Grace said she is going to go with, “Whatever combination it takes to get the best six on the court.’’

The Tigers finished fifth in District 16-4A last year, but the feeling at Corsicana is that those days are over.

“One of our goals is to win the district and make the playoffs,’’ Lee said. “That’s one of our goals. Our whole mindset has changed. We went from believing we can do it to actually knowing we can do it.’’

Lee said in the new defensive alignment she can read the opponents so much better, seeing what’s going to happen before it happens — having a sense of where the ball is going.

The Tigers all know where they want to be heading, optimism mingling with a new sense of purpose.

“There’s a new level of confidence that just wasn’t here,’’ Lee said.

Briana Biltz said even though the team is going through a learning period that everyone feels the end result will produce a season no one will forget.

“The atmosphere is different,’’ she said. “As a group we feel like we can meet our expectations. We’re more confident. Just the fact she has confidence in us to do what we need to do to win gives us confidence.’’

They will have time to adjust to the new offense and new defense. The season begins Tuesday with a pair of home games against Waco and Fairfield and the Tigers play in the Fairfield Tournament, beginning Thursday, but the first district game isn’t until Sept. 27 at home against Whitehouse.

Full speed ahead...


Mildred Lady Eagles

Coach: JoAnna Vaden (4th season)

2012 record: 21-19, 7-3 in district.

Players to watch: Savannah Pritchett (Jr., MH), Joanna Tapley (Soph., OH), Callie Bland (Jr., libero/setter),  Morgan McCreary (OH).

2013 outlook: The loss of All-Golden Circle Player of the year Olivia Farmer, and All-Golden Circle first-team hitter Audra Springer leave big spots to fill on the court, but last year’s success in which Mildred made it to the playoffs for the first time in history speaks volumes for the program. There is a lot coming back, including Bland, who was an All-Golden Circle fist-team libero and the district libero/defensive specialist. There’s also Pritchett, a 5-10 force, and Tapley, a 5-9 outside hitter who was hurt for most of the year last season. She was one of the top hitters on the team as a freshman and sophomore before she was injured. The outlook is very good for Mildred as Vaden and her kids build on what the program has already established.

Rice Lady Bulldogs

Coach: Donna Gent (6th season)

2012 record: 21-9, 8-2 in district.

Players to watch: Hanna Owens (Sr., setter), Sadie Gent (Jr., OH), Briana Weaver (Sr., OH), Trista McGee (Sr., libero), Kamron McGee (Jr., MB).

2013 outlook: Gent, who was an All-Golden Circle first-team player and a first-team district player, returns to lead the way, and Owens was an 87 percent server who had 85 assists. Rice lost Sarah Gent, who was the All-Golden Circle Setter of the Year, and Celina Smithers, who was the All-Golden Circle Offensive MVP, but the outlook still looks good for Rice.

Blooming Grove Lady Lions

Coach: Kathy Wilganowski (2nd season)

2012 record: 4-20 and 1-9 in district.

Players to watch: Steely Southard (Sr., MB), Allie Jordan (Sr., MB), Joyce Ramirez (Sr., OH/MB), Kim Mack (Sr., DS), Falcon Thompson (Sr., setter), Rachel East (Sr., OH).

2013 outlook: Blooming Grove brings back six players, including four starters and the Lady Lions have eight seniors on this year’s team, which means leadership and experience will be a key for a team that looks to be much improved over a year ago.

Frost Lady Polar Bears

Coach: Elaine Woods (4th season)

2012 record: 13-12, 9-5 in district.

Players to watch: Jae Moore (Soph., MB), Hillaree Schwartz (Soph., setter), Madison Revill (Soph. OH), Kaycee Bowling (Soph. setter)

2013 outlook: Moore is a 6-foot force at the net and was the All-Golden Circle Newcomer of the Year last season as well as the district Newcomer of the Year. She had 263 kills as a freshman. Hillaree Schwartz is a 5-7 setter who will be in her second year setting the ball for the Lady Polar Bears. Her experience should set the tone for what should be a very good year for Frost.

Kerens Lady Cats

Coach: Kristen Lynch (3rd season)

2012 record: 19-13, 9-5 in district.

Players to watch: Marqueshia Kelly (Sr., OH), Breana Wells Baxter (Jr., OH/MB), Kayla Kilcrease (Jr., libero), Taylor Ames (Sr., setter), Tinesha Tolliver (Jr., OH), Cambree Betts (Jr., OH).

2013 outlook: Baxter was the All-Golden Circle Co-Blocker of the Year and had 98 kills and 76 blocks, and was also named to the district first-team as a sophomore. Kilcrease was the All-Golden Circle Libero of the Year and the District 14-1A Defensive Player of the Year with 165 digs. Kelly was an All-Golden Circle first-team player and District 14-1A first-team player who had 112 kills and 45 blocks, and Ames was an All-Golden Circle first-team player who had 102 assists, 42 kills and 23 blocks. All of those players are back to play for Lynch, who was the All-Golden Circle Coach of the Year in 2012. The outlook couldn’t look much brighter for the Lady Cats.

Dawson Lady Bulldogs

Coach: Alica Sexton (1st year)

2012 record: 13-14

Players to watch: Demi Dotson (Sr. OH), Stephanie Lindsey (Soph., OH).

2013 outlook: Sexton coached at Class 6A Putnam in Oklahoma City the last two years but comes home to Texas (she’s from Houston) and brings a lot of energy and enthusiam to a program that was close to making the playoffs a year ago. Dotson was an All-Golden Circle first-team player and a District 14-1A first-team selection as well. She had 200 kills, 30 aces and 15 blocks. Lindsey is an up and coming sophomore who gives Dawson a second threat as an outside hitter. Sexton said, “I am counting on the returning senior setters, Kaylee Martinez and Courtney Warren on leading the team.’’

Wortham Lady Bulldogs

Coach: Johnny Ward (1st season)

2012 record: 10-4 in district.

Players to watch: Kendle Rhodes (Soph., OH), Elisha Libhart (Jr. OH), Sarah Sessions (Sr., libero) Kierra Busby (Sr., OH).

2013 outlook: Ward takes over the program from his wife, Lori, who was the volleyball coach last year. He helped out in every way a year ago, and even drove the bus, so he knows the kids and has high expectations for his team, which plays in the same district with state power Cayuga.

“Our goal is to reach the regional tournament for sure, and play Cayuga there,’’ said Ward, whose team won the first round of the playoffs last year. Wortham lost All-Golden Circle Co-Blocker of the year Amber Libhart and All-Golden Circle first-team players Kennedy Vogel and Kenzie Sessions, but the Lady Bulldogs bring back eight players, and Ward believes this year’s team could make a deep run in the playoffs. Elisha Libhart is Amber’s younger sister and Sarah Sessions is Kenzie’s cousin. They are both big hitters and Rhodes, the team’s setter, was the Newcomer of the Year in the district last season.

Hubbard Lady Jags

Coach: Sam Scribner (1st season).

2013 record: NA

Players to watch: Nakaila Banks (Sr., OH), Kate Saucke (Sr., all-around player), Jasmine Parks (Sr., MH), Amy Anz (Sr., setter).

2013 outlook: Scribner, who is Hubbard’s baseball coach, takes over the volleyball program, bringing a lot of optimism to a program that didn’t reach the playoffs last year. Banks was the leading hitter on the team last season and Saucke was the setter last season. Scribner said Saucke can play anywhere and called her “an all-around player.” With four starters back, including Sauke, one of the most talented softball players in this part of the state, Scribner feels confident his kids can have a good season.

“They know how to compete,’’ Scribner said. “This is the same group of girls who made it to the regional finals in softball, so I know they know how to compete.’’



Corsicana vs. Fairfield/Waco

at Corsicana,

JV starts at 5 p.m.

Kerens at Italy vs. Italy/Scurry,

JV starts at 4:30 p.m.

Mildred at Athens vs. Eustace/Athens,

JV starts at 4 p.m.


Rice at Kemp,

JV starts at 5:30 p.m.

Dawson vs. Covington

at Dawson, JV starts

at 5 p.m.

Hubbard at China

Spring vs. China Spring/Grandview,

JV  starts at 5 p.m.

Frost at Abbott,

JV starts at 5:30 p.m.

Wortham at Mexia,

JV starts at 5 p.m.

Blooming Grove at Venus, JV starts at 5 p.m