Canyon’s current crop of seniors finally got a taste of playoff success in 2018 when they came within a whisker of advancing to the regional semifinals.
Coming into 2019, the Cougarettes are craving even more glory and appear to have no qualms about making that fact well known.
“Getting that little taste of victory last year and having it so close — literally in the palm of our hands — is only going to make that fire bigger, especially for our senior year,” senior outside hitter Lauren Woitena said. “We’re going big or we’re going home.”
Woitena is one of several key returnees for Canyon, along with senior middle blocker Angel Jones, junior setter Erin Jones, senior libero Matti Theurer and junior middle blocker Emma Jubela.
Angel Jones is committed to SMU and is a reigning District 26-6A first team selection after providing 277 kills and 105 blocks. Her younger sister, Erin Jones, is back to handle the setting duties after landing on the all-district second team as a sophomore. Erin Jones dished out 1,187 assists last season and also had a hand in bolstering the team’s defense at the net.
Woitena and Theurer were each honorable mention picks a season ago. Woitena registered 187 kills, while Theurer racked up 349 digs.
Both players will likely see their roles expand in 2019, as will Jubela, who saw plenty of time on the court during her sophomore year and posted 129 kills and 53 blocks.
Head coach Heather Sanders said sophomore Kyla Malone will also likely lend her support as an outside hitter after spending much of last year waiting for her chance to shine.
“They’re a good core group to bring back,” Sanders said. “We’re excited.”
Regardless of which combination of hitters is on the floor at any given time, Woitena said the Cougarettes’ system is designed to produce multiple weapons.
“With Coach Sanders’ coaching style, we’ve always been really dominant on offense,” Woitena said. “It’s very team-oriented so it’s not going to be just two people firing on all cylinders. We’re going to work together as a unit. It’s not going to be just a few people doing their own job.”
There are already several players fighting for time along the back row alongside Theurer. Sanders is confident that her team’s defense is capable of making life tough on opposing hitters.
“Our defensive specialists are going to challenge us every single day and make us better,” Sanders said. “There’s just not a lot that gets past them.”
As Sanders works on getting her rotation set, Canyon will look to find a groove prior to the beginning of 26-6A play on Sept. 13 against the rival Lady Unicorns.
The same difficult field returns, including defending champ Clemens, playoff qualifiers New Braunfels and Smithson Valley and potential spoilers Steele, Judson, San Marcos and East Central.
Angel Jones said there are no easy wins on the schedule.
“Very exciting, very tough,” she said of the league. “You cannot give up on any point. You have to work hard throughout all the sets. No break time — you’re always grinding.”
Sanders welcomes the challenge while at the same time realizing that her team will need some time to truly gel.
“We also have a lot of new faces and we are having to work on that team chemistry,” the coach said. “We still have a lot to figure out.”
The Cougarettes are set to kick off the regular season Tuesday night in San Antonio for a 6 p.m. match against O’Connor. Canyon then travels to Pearland next weekend before hosting Austin Westlake on Aug. 12 in its home opener.
The Cougarettes are slated to co-host the annual Fraulein Volleyfest with the Lady Unicorns on Aug. 15-17 before making another tournament stop in Leander.
Woitena said she and her teammates can’t wait to make some noise in district play and beyond.
“Our team is ready for that competitiveness,” Woitena said. “We’re meant to be in this district and we’re all ready to fight for what we want. We’re not afraid to knock out a few people on the way there.”