By Eric Butler
Just do the math and it’s easy to see which part of the season was better for the Grady volleyball team last year.
The Bronchos finished with a respectable 12-10 overall record, but Grady excelled in District 4-1A — only losing one of its 10 regular season matches in the second half of its schedule.
After the subtracting is done, that means that Grady started out the season 3-9. Fortunately for the Bronchos, this year’s squad is minus only one player from 2002 and that may make another stumble out of the gate more unlikely.
“I’m looking for to it — I think we’ve got a good solid team,” said third-year Grady coach Alicia Rush. “It’s more rounded this year, pretty much where everyone can hit, they’re good on defense.
“There’s not really a weak player, I don’t think,” Rush adds. “That’s what I’m looking forward to — I just think we’re really well-balanced.”
Only Kodie Jones, a defensive specialist and part-time hitter, graduated from last year’s team. The Bronchos return cousins Stephanie Bailey at outside hitter and Brittany Bailey at setter, along with junior hitters Taris Pond and Jennifer Blackburn.
Grady, once again, will have only one senior on this year’s team — outside hitter Mia Armstrong.
The Bronchos finished in a regular season tie with Logan for the district lead a year ago, but fell to the Longhorns in the district tournament championship game. Grady then had its season end in a regional match at Tatum.
All of that was a far cry from the slow start that the Bronchos suffered last year.
“It was horrible. To me, it was tough because I hadn’t coached them the year before,” said Rush, who also coaches girls basketball. “I had coached before and took that one year off to have my son. Last year, was the first year I had this group again in volleyball.”
“We were having a hard time just jelling with me and just getting it going.”
“They were mainly sophomores and freshmen, so, for awhile, it just wasn’t working,” Rush adds. “But, about midway through the season, it started to click and they began to play much better.”
Blackburn, who is also joined by her younger sister Heather on the Grady front line, has an additional explanation for her team’s late emergence in 2002 as a contender.
“We had lots of people gone and missed practices — stuff like that. And volleyball’s not like basketball, where you’ve been doing it together since you were in third grade,” Jennifer Blackburn said. “We’re just starting to come around in volleyball. I think we have a good chance of going to state this year.”