There aren’t many teams in the state of Texas that walk into practice on day one of a new season with legitimate championship aspirations.
However, the New Braunfels Christian Academy volleyball squad is one of those select few.
NBCA rose through the ranks to make it to the TAPPS 3A title match against Midland Classical in 2018 but came up just shy in a five-set thriller. Ever since, head coach Megan Dugie and her players has been plotting their next move.
“I mentioned last year probably one time and that’s it,” Dugie said. “I said last year was last year and we made school history and that’s something that I and this school will forever be proud of, but we didn’t win state. I told the girls, ‘If you don’t have that burning desire in your stomach, you better find it.’
“That’s something I didn’t even need to tell them. They know it, and they want it more than anything.”
The Lady Cats return a ton of talent from last year’s breakthrough squad, including senior setter Adria Galles and junior outside hitters Camdyn Doucet and Hailey Hamlett. All three were all-state and all-district first team performers in 2018 and will once again be key contributors for Dugie in her second year at the helm.
This time, though, Galles said she understands the entire team will have a target on its back.
“We’re trying to work hard and not get complacent because we know it’s going to take a lot of work to get back on top,” Galles said. “Everybody is coming for us.”
Thankfully, Dugie reports that NBCA has more depth this year than in the past. In addition to the return of Doucet and Hamlett, who combined for 678 kills a season ago, and Galles, who dished out 891 assists, senior Jessica Hammock, senior Kacey Bronnenberg, junior Ellie Wineinger and sophomore Emily Arp are due back on the varsity roster.
Hammock will lend her support as a middle blocker, while Bronnenberg is set to strengthen the back row as a defensive specialist. Wineinger is back at outside hitter after emerging as a major weapon in 2018, and Arp spent the offseason sharpening her skills in preparation for the 2019 campaign.
“We have girls that can definitely fill the shoes of the ones we lost,” Galles said.
There are also several newcomers on the Lady Cats’ varsity this year that will look to have an immediate impact. Junior Raylee Rutledge steps in at defensive specialist, while sophomore Kiana Van Haaren is set to add another versatile option at middle blocker.
Sophomore setter Addison Lemme is studying under Galles for the time being, and the freshman duo of Bella Contreras and Ariana Garcia will likely compete for both the JV and varsity teams this year.
“I think this year we have more depth on our team,” Dugie said. “We have a lot more options we can go with.”
NBCA ran roughshod over its foes within District 4-3A last year and will once again attempt to outduel San Antonio Keystone, Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills, Hallettsville Sacred Heart and San Antonio Castle Hills. The Lady Cats didn’t drop a single set against any of those four schools in 2018.
However, Doucet said the Lady Cats must keep their focus no matter who is on the other side of the net.
“We’re working extra hard,” the junior said. “Our district is really hit or miss. It’s either really high or it’s a really low level.”
New Braunfels Christian made plenty of noise in the early season last year by taking down a number of public school teams — Marion, New Diana, Llano, Comfort, Marble Falls, Jourdanton, Dilley, Devine and Navarro. The Lady Cats will once again challenge themselves by taking part in Wimberley’s annual Tex-Fest event this weekend, and Dugie has also scheduled non-district matches against Poth, Jourdanton, Wimberley, La Vernia and Navarro prior to district competition.
Galles said every NBCA player takes pride in the opportunity to battle opponents with larger enrollments.
“Being the little, tiny private school that beats big 5A public schools is huge,” she said.
NBCA is slated to begin the regular season today with a dual match at Boerne Geneva against the host school and San Antonio TMI. The opener is set for 1 p.m.
One thing is certain — every team that takes on the Lady Cats in 2019 had better be prepared for a fight. Doucet made that abundantly clear when asked about the mindset of her team on the eve of the season opener.
“We mostly want redemption or vengeance from last year,” Doucet said, “so we’re all pretty bloodthirsty I guess.”