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2020 Miles volleyball rebuilding after 8 seniors graduate

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
Miles Lady Bulldogs junior Regan Smithwick hits the ball back over the net against the Wall Hawks on August 18th.

Last year the Miles volleyball team once again made their hometown proud. Led by seniors Emma Eschberger, Madie Mcada, Tycie Lange, Skyler Brooks, Kylie Crocker, Libby Crouch, Halle Hudson and Cambree Scwartz, the team thundered through the regular season with a 29-10 record. The ladies then coasted through district play with a 10-2 record.

That 2019 season didn’t start off as well as the ladies had hoped, falling to contender Highland Park (36-9, 14-0) and then Brownfield in the opening tournament. The Lady Dawgs were looking for some redemption and that came against the Tulia Hornets the same evening. The Lady Hornets had a losing record last year and fell to Miles, 3-0.

The next opponent for the ladies was a strong Plains team in the Shallowater Tournament. Overall, the Cowgirls went 25-16 and 13-1 district. It was a solid matchup for the Lady Dogs who needed to sharpen their game. The game was played at 8 a.m.with the Lady Dawgs winning 3-1. The afternoon game, at 1 p.m., had Miles playing Snyder (25-15, 8-0). The ladies would fall 3-0 but would win their 6 p.m game against Idalou.

On August 13th, the Lady Dawgs traveled down the road to Wall (33-10, 10-0) and were defeated 3-0. Three days later, on August 16th, the ladies traveled to Big Spring (4-28, 1-6), defeating the struggling team 3-1. Miles then defeated another struggling team, the Irvin Rockets (2-23, 1-10).

The Lady Dawgs would drop their next 2 matchups; San Angelo Central (29-11, 9-3) and El Paso Jefferson (18-16, 10-6). The evening game after playing Jefferson at 8 a.m., was a 3-0 win against Veribest (26-16, 6-6).

It was the game against Veribest where the Lady Dawgs started to find their groove. After that win, they reeled off another 7 wins in a row for a season-high 8-game winning streak.

The Lady Dogs ended the 2019 season with a deep run into the playoffs, leaving everything on the court.

This 2020 season has started off tough for the ladies, with only 2 returning seniors on the team. Eight seniors graduated in May, leaving the team with big shoes to fill. Coach Courtney Lange commented on the loss of so much experience, “We’re in a rebuilding phase this year. We lost 8 seniors who were the core of the team. This year we have 2 seniors returning, Katelynn Graves and Kinsley Riddle. we are in the process of rebuilding but we have a lot of young talent and each day we’re getting better. They’re working hard to fill the shoes of the seniors that graduated last year.”

One key returning player is all-around athlete, junior, Allie Kalina. Lange commented on Kalina’s leadership, “She’s been on varsity for a while so she has that leadership ability and she contributes every day.” Kalina is a fixture in Miles girls sports, playing softball, basketball as well as volleyball. One aspect of Kalina’s game that other teams have to guard against is her determination and resolve. Last season she had a lower body injury during the basketball season, as well as other injuries to deal with. With medical clearance, she played through most of the injuries, only being sidelined here and there. In the past, Skyler Brooks was the vocal and emotional leader of Miles girls athletics, but even a cursory glance at the volleyball court now will tell you that Kalina, Riddle and Graves have all stepped up as Brooks and the other seniors graduated. Brooks is attending the University of North Carolina on an athletic scholarship.

Lange says that the team is learning their strengths and weaknesses as they’ve improved, “What we’re doing is finding groups of girls that work well together. Each day they’re moving along and improving. Even in the next few years we’re going to be pretty strong. Right now it’s just lack of experience. But, the more playing time they get, the better we’re going to get. This year we don’t have all of those tournaments (due to the pandemic), so we don’t have all of those extra games. I think by the time we get to district play that we’re going to be pretty strong.”

The Lady Dogs played Wall on August on 18th and fell 3 sets to 0. The final score isn’t indicative of the effort put in by the girls, or the determination they showed when the chips were down. Wall won 33 games last season and has started off 2020 with 5 wins and no losses.

In the first set the Lady Dogs fell 25-15 and seemed to be on the ropes. But the girls showed tenacity in their second set, repeatedly coming back against the Lady Hawks. Eventually the Lady Hawks would take the set 25-21. The third set was another exhibition of determination with the Lady Dawgs taking a quick lead. Wall fought back and the game see-sawed back and forth until Wall finally grinded out a 26-24 win.

The net play was solid, with junior Regan Smithwick largely carrying the load against a Lady Hawks team that out-sized the Lady Dawgs. The Lady Dogs’ Achilles Heel was returning serves. The Lady Hawks scored several points off of serves that fell in the middle of the Lady Dog’s court. The communication wasn’t there in that first set but the ladies did improve as the game progressed. Their desire to improve was evident as the ladies coached each other up on the court. Their timeouts were all well spent as the ladies responded to Lange’s coaching. By the third set, those serves from the Lady Hawks were being returned with improved communication on the floor.

It’s a new season and Miles Lady Dogs are going into it intent on earning every point on the court and to improving with each serve. By the time district play rolls around they should be in good shape to make a strong push for the playoffs.

The Miles Lady Dogs improved returning the Wall Lady Hawks' serves througout the game.