Since head coach Loran Richardson began leading the Houston High School volleyball program, her teams’ records have steadily improved each year.
As Richardson enters her fourth year at the helm of Houston volleyball, she believes that improvement is in large part due the building of a stronger, more comprehensive culture within the community, including launching elementary and club volleyball programs.
“The girls are being introduced to volleyball at a younger age, which leads to a stronger skill base as they get older and enter high school,” Richardson said. “In addition, the majority of the girls have bought into our program and really push themselves to give their best effort day in and day out. Having consistency in coaching at both the middle school and high school has helped a ton. All of the middle school coaches and high school assistants are very knowledgeable and do a great job.”
The Lady Tigers have only three returning varsity starters, so many new faces will take the court in a Houston uniform. In turn, Richardson has made a few lineup changes, with one of the biggest being shifting senior Kelly Hubbs from the outside hitter position to libero.
“She played the position during club volleyball and this summer,” Richardson said. “She’s quick and reads the hitters well.”
Senior Viviana Guerra will return as one of Houston’s outside hitters playing six rotations, and senior Janae Huff will once again help run the offense as a setter.
Newcomers include seniors Baylee Weaver (outside hitter) and Taylor Medlock (defensive specialist).
“Both are great teammates and do a good job mentoring the younger players,” Richardson said.
Sophomore setter Hannah Dzurick is back in 2019 after sustaining an injury last season.
“She’s a smart, athletic player who will make an impact for us,” Richardson said.
Sophomore Sarah Purcell and junior Prairie Nunnery will fill Houston’s middle hitter roles.
“Sarah is great at the net and will really develop as the season goes on,” Richardson said, “and Prairie has the ability to put up a great block.” Other players with the potential to see significant playing time include junior defensive specialists Kellsi Gayer and Saydie Hughes, junior outside hitter Lexie Spratt and sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Holder.
Three all-conference players from last season’s Lady Tigers squad have graduated and moved on, but Richardson said there are several experienced players ready to fill their shoes and provide valuable leadership.
“I’ve got a great group of seniors who have played for me for four years now,” she said. “They understand what I expect and are doing a great job showing the younger girls what it means to be a part of this program. Not only that, I’ve got some younger girls new to varsity who are already making an impact when it comes to leadership.”
Richardson’s teams operate with a mission of “character, unity and servant leadership.” She said the current group understands why.
“I really believe the majority of the girls are on board with our mission,” Richardson said. “We know we aren’t perfect and we don’t always reach our goals, but we strive to learn from our mistakes and move on. These girls are going to go on and enter college, have families or enter the workforce, and the experiences they have in high school sports should help them prepare for it.
“That’s why we also focus on character development, learning to serve others and learning how to work with people who are different than us, because these are things they need to learn to be successful.”
The Lady Tigers will open the 2019 season and begin their quest to better last year’s 9-18-2 record by hosting Licking on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
“We have 29 girls this year who are working hard and improving every day,” Richardson said. “They are a fun group and I’m excited to see what they accomplish!”