After missing the playoffs in 2013, John Tyler volleyball coach LaMessa Derrett knew what she had to do, even if the players weren’t exactly thrilled.
To start the new season, Derrett devised intense preseason practices, with mornings dedicated to conditioning and weight training.
“I had a little resistance at first, but they all bought into what needs to happen,” Derrett said. “It’s not what they’re used to, but it’s what they’re going to have to go through if they’re going to make it to the playoffs this year.”
The Lady Lions open their 2014 campaign tonight with a road game against Carthage. With her team’s (eventually) positive response to the increased physical demands, Derrett said she’s excited about the team’s prospects.
John Tyler graduated two players from last year’s 12-27 squad that went 3-7 in District 16-4A. Leading the returning group is DeDe Rouge, a senior who was a first-team all-district and honorable mention All-East Texas selection.
Rouge, a setter last year, will be a starting middle blocker this year, where Derrett said she hopes Rouge best utilizes her power and IQ.
Another powerful player is junior outside hitter Johnetta Preston, who has recovered from knee surgery. Preston led JT in kills during the team’s preseason scrimmages and is the sister of former Lady Lions setter Monecia Preston, who went on to play collegiately.
Derrett, now in her second year as head coach, also expects good things out of senior libero Aaliyah Waalee and middle blocker Shakendra Tilley, a junior who was all-district honorable mention last year.
“Those four, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” Derrett said.
Another returning all-district player is Chenique Baxter, an outside hitter who garnered honorable mention as a sophomore. She played club volleyball with Waalee and Rouge over the summer.
“You can see the difference,” Derrett said. “They’ve dedicated themselves to this all year. They want to go far.”
At setter will be juniors Kandice Jackson and Shatavion Tucker. The Lady Lions will also be able to turn to Lajia Taylor, a defensive specialist who started on the JV squad last year.
After opening the season Tuesday, John Tyler travels to the Garland Tournament this weekend, starting Thursday. The Lady Lions are also in the ETBU Tournament and host the Tyler Invitational with Robert E. Lee. Derrett, who doesn’t want her team playing cupcakes, also scheduled games against Kilgore, Henderson, Quitman, Lee, Marshall and Pine Tree.
“They have to have a challenge,” Derrett said. “They have to fight through obstacles and difficulties. They’ve got to have that competition so they can overcome the obstacles.”
Derrett hopes the non-district slate helps prepare JT for the new District 16-5A, which added Lufkin to create a seven-team league. The Lady Lions defeated the Lady Panthers 3-1 last year.
Lindale won the district in 2013 at 10-0, with Whitehouse right behind at 8-2. Corsicana and Nacogdoches took the other two playoff spots.
“I expect to go to the playoffs and I expect to go to the playoffs at the top,” Derrett said. “I expect them to work hard and I expect them to give me 110 percent.”
To reach the postseason Derrett said her team must learn how to finish games and not let mistakes snowball.
“We have our moments in there where we’re up then we have a couple of mistakes,” she said. “We’ll have a few errors that make us put our heads down but they’re going to have to learn to fight through, finish and execute.”
Of course, being in better condition will help late in games.
After scrimmages on Friday Rouge came up to Derrett and said she wasn’t even tired yet.
“I said, ‘Alright then — so we’re making progress,’” Derrett recalled. “There’s an attitude change and an attitude adjustment that’s taking place.
“They’re pretty cohesive. Everyone gets along; they’re like a family. They told me, “Coach, we’re ready. We want to work hard.’ That being said, let’s do it.”
2014 John Tyler Volleyball Schedule
Aug. 12at Carthage7 p.m.
Aug. 14-16Garland TournamentTBA
Aug. 19at Kilgore6:30 p.m.
Aug. 21-23ETBU TournamentTBA
Aug. 26at Henderson7 p.m.
Aug. 28-30Tyler InvitationalTBA
Sept. 2REL/Quitman (at Lee)6:30 p.m.
Sept. 5Marshall6:30 p.m.
Sept. 9at Pine Tree7 p.m.
Sept. 12Jacksonville*6 p.m.
Sept. 16at Lufkin*6 p.m.
Sept. 19Nacogdoches*6 p.m.
Sept. 23Karnack5 p.m.
Sept. 26at Whitehouse*6 p.m.
Sept. 30at Corsicana*6 p.m.
Oct. 3Lindale*6 p.m.
Oct. 7at Jacksonville*6 p.m.
Oct. 10Lufkin*6 p.m.
Oct. 14at Nacogdoches*6 p.m.
Oct. 17at Tatum6 p.m.
Oct. 21Whitehouse*#6 p.m.
Oct. 24Corsicana*6 p.m.
Oct. 28at Lindale*6 p.m.
* — District 16-5A
# — Senior Night