It couldn’t happen at a better time either, because with the regular season wrapping up this week the Lady Bears are making their final preparations before hosting the Area 5-A tournament next week.
"We are a very young team, only returning four players from last year and with six freshmen, so this has definitely been a rebuilding year,” said Holy Innocents’ volleyball coach Taylor Noland, now in her second year as head coach. “We’ve battled through some setbacks, but this team surprises me everyday and their team dynamic keeps me guessing.”
Coming off back-to-back trips to the final four of the Class-AA state playoffs and a string of Elite-Eight appearances dating back to 2007, Holy Innocents’ started the 2012 season with a grueling schedule custom-made for the state’s elite.
But youth, inexperience and injuries were a theme through the season’s first month, coupled with a schedule of larger and more experienced teams, Holy Innocents’ got off to a 6-13 start.
“When I started scheduling in January my thought process was, play tougher competition early on so that later in the season we will be prepared. However, our injuries were unpredictable and the team has had to fight through it,” said Noland. “We certainly struggled [at times], but we improved every time we competed.
”Playing without starting setter Sarah Porter and starting outside hitter Haley Collins for much of the season, Noland said other plays have had to blend into new roles, and with time have begun to excel.Sophomore Sarah Joe has been what Noland called her “strongest all-around player” at outside hitter. Junior Mary Hollis Schmidt has led a strong defense as the team’s libero with contributions from middle-blocker Lexii Cassell and defensive specialist Navie Birdwell.
In recent weeks the Lady Bears have improved their record to a 11-16 mark — including four straight wins in 5-A play.
“Even though our record doesn’t display it, the team has improved tremendously,” said the Lady Bears’ coach. “Don’t count us out of the [playoff] race yet; these Bears still have a lot of fight left in them.”