COURTING A NEW BEGINNING

in Volleyball

For the first time in more than four decades, Meridian Lady Jackets ‘lock in’ to play volleyball

MERIDIAN — For the first time in more than four decades, the Meridian Lady Jackets took to the court to play a volleyball match last Friday at Yellowjacket Gymnasium. With a minimal amount of fanfare but plenty of excitement in the air, Meridian’s first-year volleyball head coach Megan Styron led her young, inexperienced squad through their pre-game paces with some jitters on display.

Meridian’s first-year volleyball head coach Megan Styron during warm-ups prior to the first Lady Jacket volleyball game in 41 years.

“It was exciting to have our first home game at Meridian in such a long time,” said Styron, making her first appearance as a head coach after serving as the athletic trainer at MHS for the last two years. “It was great to see the many fans there — socially distanced, of course — to support this new chapter.” 

Taking on a talented and deep Rio Vista Lady Eagle squad, the Lady Jackets battled their nervous anxiety while demonstrating enthusiasm and grit before falling in straight sets, 25-10, 25-6, 25-13 after the Meridian junior varsity lost, 25-19, 25-17.

“The girls have made a lot of progress since that first day of practice, which I am very proud of,” Styron said. “For varsity, I think the nerves of the first home game got the best of us in our play. But I think it was good for the girls to go against another program that has been around for a while and give us something to strive for. 

“The girls are still working on putting all the little pieces together and realizing that volleyball is a game that you have to be locked in at all times.” 

After a 41-year absence, MISD athletic director Wade Morton, MHS principal Kristi Kinney and MISD superintendent Kim Edwards locked in and decided to bring volleyball back this season.

“We wanted to address the amount of sports we had for the fall,” Morton said. “We wanted all of our athletes to compete in sports year around, and having volleyball allows for all of our athletes to compete.”

“Volleyball provides an additional opportunity for our students to be involved,” Edwards said.

Although the Lady Jackets own a long history of playing volleyball, the program was initially dropped following the 1973-74 school year. Meridian reinstated volleyball for the 1978-79 school year, but promptly dropped it again the following season.

“My sister played and loved it,” said Gay (Coffman) Allen, Meridian High School Class of 1978, who retired after working in the MHS front office for 24 years but still drives a bus route. “We had a basketball coach come in who threw a fit about it taking away from basketball, so they quit playing again.

“Back in the day, Meridian always had volleyball. I have talked to other schools before we started up that play both, and they said the same girls do both and it has in no way affected their basketball program. It helps other athletes have another area if they don’t like basketball. Some of the girls that have never played basketball are playing, and I think it is great for our school to offer this for another option.”

Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Styron played college soccer at Florida Southern College while earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training.  While working on a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology at Baylor University, Styron was placed at Meridian for the past two years as a graduate assistant athletic trainer through Baylor Scott & White Southwest Sports Medicine. 

“When I found out they would be adding volleyball this year, I somehow convinced them to let me stick around and help with their new program,” Styron said. “I played volleyball up until high school and played club ball as well. This is my first coaching job, and I am very humbled and blessed that Meridian entrusted me to help re-start their volleyball program and consider it a privilege. I’ve loved my two years here at Meridian so far, and I am excited for this new chapter.”

As if rebuilding the volleyball program after a 41-year hiatus wasn’t already a big enough challenge, Styron and her inexperienced but enthusiastic bunch of volleyball players were forced to sit out much of the summer workout program thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. So since workout reopened Aug. 3, the Lady Jackets have been playing catch-up.

“We had to start from the very beginning — with fundamentals,” said Styron, who teams with assistant coach Lauren Cartwright. “We literally had to teach them how to pass a ball, how to set, what the lines on the court mean, etc. We still try to incorporate those fundamentals into every practice as we start to advance, making sure we are fine tuning those essential parts of volleyball.”

The Lady Jacket varsity squad includes Evelyn Dirkse, Elyse Herrera, McKenzie Hicks, Mackenzie Lane, Cortney Lunsford, Faith Paruszewski, Burkly Paruszewski, America Ramirez, Canyon Stauffer, Journie Tweedle and Kimberly Walker.

“We still have a lot to work on,” Styron said. “But I have high expectations of them and myself based off of what I have seen so far. Being able to watch them in other sports in the past has allowed me to know what they’re capable of athletically and be able to push them harder. I expect them to give every opponent a fighting chance and not let them being a first year team be their defining factor.”

With total of 25 girls currently playing volleyball, Styron has the luxury of playing a junior varsity schedule as well to help rebuild the program. The Meridian junior varsity consists of Hope Cabrera, Summer Chen, Haley Creech, Abby Edwards, Kylie Hood, Autumn Jean, Catherine Lunsford, Meryl Roberson, Sophia Thompson, Jaycie Tweedle, Kaidence Jones, Liberty Heflin and Kaylee Kinard.

“I am very proud of the progress the girls have made in such a short period of time,” Styron said. “This summer was the first time some of the girls ever touched a volleyball. So to see where they are already makes me excited for the season.” 

Easing the volleyball program back up to speed, the Lady Jackets will only play one game per week before opening District 11-2A competition by hosting the Hamilton Lady Bulldogs Sept. 8. In the meantime, Meridian will play three consecutive non-district games on the road, visiting Penelope this Friday, traveling to Kerens Aug. 28, and making the short trip to Moody Sept. 1.

“It’s great seeing the potential we have,” Styron said. “Now, it is just finding ways to execute that on the court. We try to treat them as if they are not a brand new program, as in not letting that be an excuse. We have high expectations of them and hold them to it, while applauding and pointing out the efforts and strides they have made along the way.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.