Every team has its own unique identity.
The 2019 Lady Unicorns are determined to set themselves apart with their own blend of experience, skill and camaraderie. Senior defensive specialist/libero Edie Welch said there’s already a strong bond present as New Braunfels prepares to embark on a quest for the District 26-6A championship and beyond.
“I’m definitely ready to work hard and climb the ranks this year in district,” Welch said. “I think the sophomores and juniors are ready for that, too. I think we’re all ready to support each other in that, and that’s really exciting.”
Welch made a huge impact last season and is one of a handful of returnees for head coach Heather Sledge, who is entering her third full season with the Lady Unicorns. Welch earned honorable mention from 26-6A as a junior after contributing 238 digs and 49 aces, and she’s joined by fellow senior starters Madison Glassco and Lena Baumann this year.
Glassco, an outside hitter, led the team in kills as a junior with 406, and Baumann dished out 465 assists while sharing the setting duties with recent graduate Ellie Wipf. Glassco was also a second team all-district choice last season and thinks the 2019 campaign has the potential to be even more rewarding.
“We’re all super excited because this year we have a chemistry that we haven’t had before on the team,” Glassco said. “We all love each other and trust each other more than years past, so I think it’s going to be a really fun season.”
Glassco’s ability to put the ball down as a powerful hitter will be key for New Braunfels, which also welcomes back junior outside hitter/middle blocker Rian Millership and junior outside hitter Morgan Baese. Junior Cypress Guenther is also slated to move up to varsity and provide more depth along the front row.
Sledge said Ella Brunson has a shot to earn playing time as a setter, while a group of players will battle for time along the back row at defensive specialist. Expected to be in the mix is Harleigh Mericle, who saw some time on the court as a junior.
Overall, Sledge hopes her players will take true ownership of the team in order to keep the ship steered in the proper direction.
“I think something we lacked last year was true leadership,” Sledge said. “I think this group of seniors, from being on the varsity their sophomore and junior years, they’ve seen two different kinds of teams. It’s kind of paved the way for thinking, ‘What do we want to do and how are we going to become the district champions again?’ That’s a special thing they’ve gotten to see and preview — and now it’s about what they really want out of this season.”
Glassco is determined to help her team remain in contention for the 26-6A title in 2019 after finishing in third place last season behind champion Clemens and runner-up Canyon. Meanwhile, Smithson Valley, Steele, Judson, East Central and San Marcos will look to shake up the standings and climb their way to the summit as well.
“Our district is going to be super competitive this year and we’re excited to play everyone and hopefully come out on top and go into playoffs and go farther than we have before,” Glassco said.
New Braunfels won 31 matches last year and defeated Lake Travis in the bi-district round of the postseason before bowing out against Clark in an area matchup. Welch said gaining that type of experience in high-pressure situations was invaluable for the Lady Unicorns’ returning varsity performers.
“Our experience helps us teach the sophomores and we’re able to make them feel comfortable on the court so they can make great plays and just be themselves,” she said.
New Braunfels will begin the season on the road, as Sledge’s team will travel to San Antonio today for a scrimmage and open the regular season Tuesday night at 7 p.m. against Clark. The Lady Unicorns are set to travel to Pearland next weekend and will make their home debut during the annual Fraulein Volleyfest, which is scheduled to take place on Aug. 15-17 this year.
“We have a scrimmage [Saturday] at Madison and we’re leaving at 6:45 in the morning,” Sledge said. “Ready or not, here we go.”
As New Braunfels settles into the season and finds its rotation, it will attempt to regain the synergy that led to a district championship in 2017.
“Sophomore year to last year, we went down a little bit in our district,” Baumann said. “I’m ready to be back on top like we should be.”