SPRING BRANCH — At times over the past few seasons, the Lady Rangers have appeared to be on the precipice of a major breakthrough.
There have also been moments when Smithson Valley’s youth was undeniable.
However, things look to be trending upward in Spring Branch as head coach Courtney Patton prepares for her third season with the Lady Rangers. Smithson Valley brings back a large group of performers that saw playing time a year ago, including senior Tanyse Moehrig and sophomore Maddie Dennis.
Moehrig landed on the District 26-6A second team last year as an outside hitter, while Dennis stepped into the starting setting role as a freshman and earned honorable mention from the league after leading her team in assists with 686.
“This is the most talented group of girls that we’ve had in the past couple years — the best since Coach Patton has been here,” Moehrig said. “I think that we’ll go far.”
Moehrig provided 326 kills and 274 digs last year, but the multi-sport standout was injured during basketball season. She expects to be back in action in a few weeks.
The Lady Rangers were also set to bring back all-district libero Gabi Smith, but the timetable for recovering from her own ailment isn’t as promising. That hasn’t stopped Smith from contributing in a coaching role, though.
“I’m trying to lead the back row because most of them are younger,” Smith said. “I’m trying to do what I can.”
Patton said Smith will be a vital part of the team throughout the 2019 campaign.
“The kids look to her for vocal instruction and a lot of different things,” Patton said. “She’s going to absolutely have an impact for us on the bench, and with her position she’s going to have a leadership role.”
Due back along the front row with Moehrig are sophomore middle blocker Bekah Williams, junior outside hitter Esther DuGlas, junior outside hitter Naomi Ortiz and senior outside hitter Kate Myles. Patton said she’s been thrilled with the progress some of last year’s varsity newcomers have made during the past nine months.
“It’s a lot of the same kids, but also some new kids that worked really hard this offseason,” the coach said. “They got really explosive, they got quick. We worked a lot on our pins and being able to be versatile with lots of different shots, so it’s going to be an exciting group.”
Along the back row, a host of returnees will fight for court time, including junior setter Lily Sandoval and defensive specialists Jade Bernal, Jenna Butz and Erin Feely.
With so much potential due back, Patton is hoping her young Lady Rangers can begin to forge their own identity within a tough district and region.
“I took over a really strong program,” Patton said. “Coach [Liana Tyler] was doing incredible things, but you always put your own spin on it. I’m hoping this is our breakthrough season and we surprise some people and maybe even surprise ourselves a little bit because there is a lot of talent.”
One area of focus over each of Patton’s first two years at the helm is finding consistency from game to game and even match to match. Smithson Valley displayed flashes of brilliance in 2018 but was also prone to a few ill-timed slides.
Ortiz said playing at a more steady level was a major topic of discussion leading up to this year.
“Even in the offseason, [Patton] was really specific about what we need to work on so we can maintain that high level of play,” Ortiz said. “At the rate we’re going with how hard we’ve been working and the level of play that we’ve been maintaining during practice, we’ll definitely be up there.”
The Lady Rangers will attempt to challenge defending 26-6A champ Clemens as well as local rivals Canyon and New Braunfels in the fight for the league championship. Of course, Steele, East Central, San Marcos and Judson are also capable of playing spoiler on any given night.
Smithson Valley is scheduled to open the regular season today at 6:15 p.m. against Boerne Champion on the road. The Lady Rangers host their annual Texas Showdown on Aug. 22-24, and Patton’s team opens 26-6A competition on Sept. 13 with a match against Clemens at home.