There are so many things for Vandegrift volleyball coach Melissa Southall to be excited about this season.
Since taking over as head coach of the Lady Vipers before the 2017-18 season, Southall has continued the tradition of Vandegrift making it to the postseason, even winning an outright district title a season ago.
With the sophomores from Southall’s first season now seniors, this is the year Vandegrift can really leave its mark.
“I’m excited to see their senior leadership and be a part of their growth in that sense,” Southall said. “They can impact the younger girls on the team. The goal is to make a run at playoffs and make a strong run. It’s been since 2015 that Vandegrift went to a regional tournament, and that was in 5A. We want to get there and we want to compete.”
Annie Stadthaus returns for her senior season after winning District 13-6A MVP last season, finishing with 527 kills, 124 blocks and 46 serving aces while last season’s Outstanding Setter Delaney Dilfer is back after raking up 1,360 assists.
First-team selections Brynne Wright and Audrey Green and second-team honorees Jules Mokry and Egadi Santos are also back for a Lady Vipers squad filled with experience.
“All those older girls, once we started the offseason, they have had it in their minds that they were going to start working to get better and get to the regional tournament and eventually state,” Southall said. “We’ve been super lucky and blessed with Delaney running our offense having strong hitters and. Their receiving defense has been a big key for us and that’s what we’ve been working on since January.”
Southall said the Lady Vipers have a few younger girls that figure to have a big role in making that run this season, including sophomore libero Ireland McCauley and sophomore outside hitter Chloe Charles.
Vandegrift is already off to a flying start this season, winning its first eight games. As of press time on Tuesday afternoon, the Lady Vipers are 15-3 overall.
Stadthaus leads the team with 156 kills and 44 total blocks while Wright is second with 118 kills and third with 16 blocks. Dilfer has 382 assists and is second with 18 blocks. McCauley has a team-best 134 digs and Green is second with 118.
Vandegrift has already seen a few teams during tournament play that it will once district play begins. The Lady Vipers beat the likes of McNeil, Stony Point and Round Rock but lost to Westwood.
Southall said it can be a blessing and a curse to be in such a competitive district, something many other teams across the state don’t get on a nightly basis.
“I can’t think of one team where we can take a deep breath,” she said. “I love that about this district because it does prepare us if we go on to playoffs. But at the same time, it’s so stressful. We had so many five-set matches last year.”
The district season begins with two straight road games for Vandegrift, starting with a trip to Leander HS on Aug. 30 before facing Round Rock on Sept. 3. The Lady Vipers open the district schedule at home against Stony Point on Sept. 6.
Southall said in one game during a tournament last week, they would play well offensively but the passing was off and the next day it was the opposite. So until the district slate begins, the name of the game is staying even-keeled.
“I’m looking for consistency of girls turning it on together and keeping up the motivation and hard work,” Southall said. “Our girls are super determined, and it’s about tying up those loose ends and finding a sense of balance.”