On Wednesday afternoon, as men ripped tape off the newly painted white and navy gym walls, Ryan’s volleyball team sat on the hardwood around head coach Cindy Williams.
The team flipped through its “volleyball bible,” a thick packet with everything from quotes to sideline-conduct guidelines, rules and regulations.
On the eve of the Ryan Varsity Kick-Off Classic, and one day removed from a humbling three-set loss to Frisco, the Lady Raiders looked up at their coach while she went through the packet.
In less than 24 hours, the team was set to host the 32-team tournament, and it’s a young team looking to dispel the feelings from Tuesday’s 25-19, 25-9, 25-19 loss.
The players and their coach are well aware of their learning curve as they begin facing new challenges in Class 5A, with this weekend’s tournament the beginning of that process.
“We’ve got a lot of young girls on varsity this year, and this is the beginning of our season,” senior outside hitter Hailey Foster said. “This is where we need to show everybody that we can compete in a 5A district. It’s extremely important for us to step up our game and work hard this weekend.”
In the 17 years that Ryan has hosted the tournament, the Lady Raiders have only won once — in 2005, when current assistant coach Abby Arledge was playing for Williams. This year’s tournament is filled with many Class 4A teams that used to be in Ryan’s class. There are a couple of 5A teams in the event as well, and area teams such as Guyer, Pilot Point, Denton and Lake Dallas.
However, the players on this year’s Ryan squad differ from the team that was District 4-4A’s fourth seed last season and lost to Canyon Randall in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
Ryan only has four returning players and two seniors, with seven players making the jump to varsity. Williams said two or three of the players had to skip JV and go from the freshman squad straight to the varsity squad, turning the initial weeks of the season into an accelerated learning process.
Williams said her squad’s pace of play has to pick up, a fact that was evident in the loss to Frisco. The coach said the team’s inexperience and the lack of time playing together have a lot to do with its speed.
Sophomore defensive specialist Arissa Chappell agreed and said the team needs to step up its level of play.
“We’re trying to get to that level so hard and so quickly because we just started playing two weeks ago,” Chappell said. “Last night we played Frisco High, and you have to times that by two just to get to 5A level.”
The district Ryan’s heading into won’t show the young squad any pity. Coppell and Flower Mound Marcus, two of Ryan’s 5-5A opponents, each advanced to the state tournament last season.
This weekend’s tournament is another part of a nondistrict schedule that’s preparing Ryan for the likes of Coppell and Marcus.
“I don’t want to say winning’s not important, because it is,” Williams said. “We want to win. But we want to do what we have to do to get ready for district.”
Chappell and Foster agreed that a strong showing in front of 31 other teams could do wonders for the team’s perception.
“It would give us the biggest confidence boost we could have,” Foster said. “It’ll be a huge deal, especially if we win this and work hard. It will be our send-off, saying, ‘Hey, come and get us. We’ve got this now.’”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .