There were hugs and smiles as John Tyler volleyball players returned to the court.
Then it was down to business.
The Lady Lions began fall practice on the first day allowed by UIL regulations on Monday at the Lions Den, with players happy to see one another after the summer break.
"It's just good to be on the court again with everyone I love," senior libero Kennedy Timms said.
But with the season opener a week away and the move up to Class 6A increasing the level of competition, pleasantries quickly turned to preparation.
John Tyler has scrimmages Friday and Saturday before opening the season at home to Nacogdoches on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
Coach LaMessa Derrett, beginning her fourth year in charge, said during the first week of practice the team is focusing on sharpening skills and communication.
"I have a good season to look forward to," Derrett said. "They've been working hard. They've been doing summer workouts, open gym. I feel that we're going to be pretty competitive."
The Lady Lions went 15-18 last year, just missing out on the playoffs after finishing tied for fourth in District 16-5A.
This year JT will compete in 11-6A, with league play starting on Sept. 9 against crosstown rival Robert E. Lee.
The higher classification means higher demands in practice, said senior middle blocker Daz'Monique Johnson, a second-team all-district player last year.
"Our work ethic has to be (higher)," Johnson said. "Coach pushes us harder than she usually does because we're in a bigger (district)."
John Tyler graduated three all-district players from last year's squad but the current squad worked hard over the offseason to prepare for the year campaign. Derrett said she was particularly proud of the incoming freshman group and the squad could have a number of sophomores in key roles.
"We did speed and power camp with coach Holmes so we had a lot of outside work," said Avoree Oliver, co-Newcomer of the Year in 16-5A last season. "We really didn't touch a ball that much - just speed and agility."
Now that the Lady Lions are back in the gym, they'll be eager to see how the hard work pays off.
"It just makes me happy again to get out on the court," Oliver said.
2016 John Tyler Volleyball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 9 Nacogdoches 7 p.m.
Aug. 11-13 at Van Tournament TBA
Aug. 16 Kilgore/Sulphur Springs 5/7 p.m.
Aug. 18-20 at ETBU Tournament TBA
Aug. 23 at Henderson 7 p.m.
Aug. 25-27 Tyler Invitational Tournament TBA
Aug. 30 Grace Community 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Marshall 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 Pine Tree 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 Robert E. Lee* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 Mesquite Horn* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 Rockwall* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Rockwall-Heath* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at North Mesquite* 5 p.m.
Sept. 27 Longview* 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 Mesquite* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Robert E. Lee* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Mesquite Horn* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Rockwall* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 Rockwall-Heath* 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 North Mesquite** 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Longview* 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Mesquite* 6:30 p.m.
* - District 11-6A
** - Senior Night