White Oak returned only four players from last season’s state title squad, which went 46-1 and graduated several standouts to college volleyball.
But one of the returning players happened to be the state player of the year, meaning the Ladynecks had a good place to begin building another contender.
“I knew we would have a good team,” White Oak coach Carolee Musick said Thursday. “I knew it was a small nucleus, but a very good nucleus. …I knew we would be good, but how good?
So far, the Ladynecks have answered the question in favorable fashion.
That’s evidenced by their record entering tonight’s road matchup against Harmony, which stands at 32-3 overall and 7-0 in District 19-2A. The same could be said about their state ranking, currently No. 2 by the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
“There’s no way to be more pleased with where we’ve come from and where we are right now,” said Musick, the All-East Texas Coach of the Year the past four seasons. “To lose as many players as we lost, the girls that have had to replace them have faced so much pressure. It took a little while to get them to breathe and play volleyball at the same time.”
Abbey Bybel, the two-time reigning All-ET Player of the Year, hasn’t displayed any signs of senioritis through 35 matches. The SMU verbal pledge has 487 kills, 217 digs and 61 assists on the season.
Bybel will leave a lasting legacy at White Oak after graduating, Musick said.
“She will be remembered and talked about and her picture will hang in the gym for eternity,” Musick said. “I think right now she just wants to continue doing all she can do for White Oak and leave the most positive mark she can.”
The other returning players included Brinklee Noll, Kara Kienzle and Dorothy Swanson. Swanson has the second-most kills on the team (324), while Noll leads with 1,073 assists and Kienzle has contributed 53 assists.
The rest of the roster consists of Pamela Lott, Shelby Stillwell, Courtney Rice, Desiree Vining, Madison Pecot, Morgan Baldwin, Rebecca Green, Taylor Tramel and Holly Heim.
Baldwin is second on the squad in assists with 804.
The Ladynecks’ only losses have been to Class 4A No. 12 Pine Tree, Class 4A Hallsville and 2A top-ranked Brock, which White Oak could earn a rematch against at the state tournament.
That said, Musick isn’t using revenge as a motivation tool or forecasting a fourth trip to state in five seasons.
“I start out the year thinking about us doing the best we can do and learning to be a team and working hard,” Musick said. “I’m very proud of the girls. We’ve made it to a point where we know it could be possible and we just try to continue working hard.”