The Anahuac volleyball team has experienced a renaissance this fall behind a group that considers each other a collective of best friends who enjoy each other’s company especially when trying to pay homage to the Brady Bunch. Top row from left are, Maci Bennett, Bella Hornsby-Abshier, Erin Willcox, Zoe Key and Jamaya Kirkwood; Front row from left are, Becca Dehoyos, Bree Anderson, Sydney Bertrand, Mallory Hendrix, and Ashley Bennett.

Volleyball team has more than tripled 2018 win total

It’s been a process that has seen Lauren Brandon find some success in rebuilding Anahuac High School volleyball in short time.

The second-year head coach took over when the most recent search bogged down and Brandon stepped up into the role of her alma mater.

In 2018, her first year didn’t go too well as the Lady Panthers stumbled to a 4-28 mark, but this year the team has competed at a much higher level, standing at 14-20 overall and 2-5 in District 21-3A play.

Friday, they fell in four sets at Buna, but the fourth playoff spot is still in reach.

To think Anahuac is talking about potential playing in the postseason wouldn’t have even hit the radar a year ago. Now it’s a nice-sized blip of potential.

“We had some players commit to at least one year of club volleyball so that was a big difference maker,” Brandon said. “We also have a more rigid and structured program and more dedication to the program. It’s been challenging at times.

“We have more support in general from the administration. “

Brandon added that the team is coachable and learning trust in the process and that things will work out.

The team’s ah-ha moments came in different forms.

“It wasn’t one specific time,” Anderson said. “We can lose a game like last year and it was no big deal because we were used to losing. Now you will see someone crying because we just lost a game. Sometimes even when we win someone brings up ‘I did this wrong, I messed up here.’”

“One moment that was a big turning point for us was when we beat Cleveland,” “They aren’t a really good team, but in the past we would have been swept by them and this time we killed them in our first home game and a big crowd. It was a big moment for us and our players owning their own excitement.

“That was a big moment for us. We have always had good athletes here – having enough is not the problem. It’s been culture, togetherness and things like that. Those are what I see in practice when we pick each other up and the focus.”

The players noticed that they had moved the dial on their own expectations once the new season got under way in August.

“Basically, we were losing the whole season last year and we got out on the court and wanted to win,” senior setter and outside hitter. “At first, when we came back from the summer, I didn’t expect the winning. I was so used to losing. When we started winning, it showed me something different.”

A close four-set loss against Lumberton was a big turning point.

“We thought, ‘we could hang,’” Brandon said. “A big thing for us this year is confidence that we can play.”

Instead of recoiling against higher expectations, the Lady Panthers embraced them.

“I think we were just sick of losing,” senior libero Sydney Bertrand said. “From last year to this year we started trying more. During two-a-days we started to say ‘wow, we can actually do this,’ after our summer workouts.”

It didn’t hurt that sophomore Erin Willcox rose from a nice JV player to suddenly a terminator at middle blocker. The older girls excepting her and the handful of talented sophomores also went a lot way.

“If she puts down one of her magic ones it gives me chills up and down my body,” Anderson said. “Us resenting our younger players would pull ourselves a part and that’s not how teams work.”

Willcox admits some apprehension at first when the season tipped off.

“I was honestly kind of scared because I didn’t want to mess up and do the right thing,” she said. “Now it’s fun because I know they aren’t going to judge me if I do something wrong.”

Brandon said Willcox’s performance has elevated the play of others around here.

“Everyone’s level has increased because they all want to hit as hard as she does,” Brandon said. 

The team has not made the playoffs since 2013 and in this case, it would be gravy.

“Anything better than last year is successful,” Bertrand said. “If we can’t do it this year, hopefully they can do it next year.”

But, sure the playoffs are definitely on Anahuac’s mind: Something that none of thee girls imagined even six months ago.

“It would mean a lot just to make it to the first round of the playoffs,” Anderson said. 

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