The Decatur Lady Eagles made the taxing journey to the top of the volleyball mountain, capturing the Class 3A title.
Monday they start a new challenge: defending the crown.
Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay said defending the title may be even more challenging than winning it the first time.
“Obviously there is pressure and a bigger target on your back,” Benedict-Gay said. “Everyone you play will give you their best match. You don’t get days off.”
With 11 returning players from last year’s 41-7 squad, the Lady Eagles say they are up to the challenge. Among the 11 returners are seven seniors – four of them four-year varsity players.
“It’s hard to believe this is our last year,” said setter Stormi Leonard. “Our goal is to win state and take it all in.”
Leonard is back to lead the offense at setter. The all-state selection handed out 1,356 assists last season along with serving up 62 aces and making 414 digs.
Class 3A MVP Makayla Mayfield leads a powerful group of hitters. She recorded 508 kills last season along with 540 digs. Cooper Martin, who earned the MVP in the state championship match, returns after notching 440 kills last year. Caroline Lowery, the 9-3A Server of the Year in 2013, comes back after putting down 440 kills last year to go along with 81 aces.
Dylana Hutchins returns after making first-team 9-3A with 157 kills and 116 digs last year.
The Lady Eagles did graduate a starting middle blocker, Katie Isham, along with libero Serena Estrada.
“Everyone else is back, and the people coming up are just as eager to play and compete,” Benedict-Gay said.
The Decatur coach said her team will face a challenging schedule through the preseason with matches against bigger schools.
“Our preseason is tough. We’re playing in some tough tournaments against some great teams,” Benedict-Gay said.
The Lady Eagles realize there may be a few ups and downs along the way.
“We may not be No. 1 all preseason,” Leonard said. “We’re going to be playing some of the best schools around.”
But they know the real goal is getting back to Garland and adding another trophy to the case.