DICKINSON — It’s about defense for the Dickinson volleyball team, and as long as coach Mitzi Matthews’ Lady Gators follow the mantra, they’ll find themselves in the thick of the District 24-6A playoff hunt.
Dickinson brought back four starters for Tuesday’s opener against Baytown Sterling, which gives the Gators a sturdy foundation to build upon. While the team lacks the size of some of their 24-6A foes, fundamentals — along with defense, of course — is why Matthews feels optimistic about the 2014 campaign.
“I think we’ll be just fine,” Matthews said Monday. “Like anyone else, we’ll need the nondistrict schedule to figure out some things, but I think once we do, we’re going to be able to surprise some people this season.”
While the Lady Gators will be senior laden, it will be the play of a trio of juniors, led by middle blocker Nayo Warnell, who could determine if the team can better last season’s 4-8 mark in district play.
The 6-foot Warnell has already drawn the attention of Division I programs following a breakout sophomore year in which she led Dickinson with 382 kills with a .499 kill percentage to go along with a team-best 79 blocks. Fellow juniors Maegan Contreras and Mallory Moore will also be looked upon to step up into bigger roles.
Senior outside hitter Kaithlyn Larner also returns to the starting lineup after she recorded 282 kills, while senior Arien Joyce gives back the Lady Gators its team leader in digs.
“We have to stress defense,” Matthews said. “You have to have a great defense in order to contend in this district because everyone has at least one big offensive threat that you have to respect.”
To that end, Matthews feels the team’s biggest nondistrict goal will be finding a starter on the right side along with a middle blocker.
“There’s a couple of players that we feel are capable of filling those roles, but we’ll have to see,” she said.
Dickinson will hit the road for the Grapevine Tournament beginning Thursday before taking on Deer Park and hosting its annual tournament next week. Games against Fort Bend Ridge Point and La Porte will close out the nondistrict schedule, as the Gators will open 24-6A play against Clear Lake on Sept. 12.
“Overall, I feel good about this team,” Matthews said. “We’ll be ready to compete each night, but we’re up to the challenge to be more successful this season.”
Dickinson Lady Gators
COACH: Mitzi Matthews
KEY RETURNERS: Nayo Warnell (Jr.), Kaithlyn Larner (Sr.), Arien Joyce (Sr.)