After rebooting the Meridian girls volleyball program last season following a 41-year absence, the Lady Jackets hope to take a competitive leap up under a new head coach
MERIDIAN – With a new head coach and a fresh start, the Meridian Lady Jacket volleyball squad enters the 2021 Texas high school volleyball season with high expectations and lofty goals.
But for the Lady Jacket volleyball program, it proved to be a winning season in 2020 just by stepping out onto the court to play a match for the first time in 41 years. Coming off that ground-breaking effort, the Lady Jackets appear primed to take their game to the next level in 2021 under new head coach Lauren Cartwright.
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. After the 41-year absence, MISD athletic director Wade Morton and MISD superintendent Kim Edwards locked in and decided to bring volleyball back.
“It’s exciting to kick-off the second year of volleyball at Meridian, following such a long absence of the sport in our school,” said Cartwright, who takes over for departed head coach Megan Styron after serving as an assistant last season. “Thankfully, I already know our players, having coached most of them last year. We have a great group of girls returning to the game and a couple of new players as well.
“As a young program, we are working to build a solid foundation that can be built upon for years to come. I am optimistic regarding the upcoming season. We’ve got a great group of girls that enjoy playing together and challenge one another to improve on a daily basis.”
Getting off the a solid start in three scrimmages last week, the Lady Jackets won both matches of a round robin against Three Way and Morgan last Friday before knocking off Kopperl Saturday morning.
“We went three-for-three this weekend, which was a great way to kick-off our season,” Cartwright said. “The girls are thrilled and seeking to improve every day. Each athlete has developed specific goals they are working on as a part of our team goals for the season.”
The Lady Jackets will begin working on achieving their goals this week as Meridian opens the regular season by hosting Bruceville-Eddy Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Yellowjacket Gymnasium before hitting the road to play in the Covington Tournament Aug. 12-14.
“In preparation for our opener, we have worked to develop an environment conducive to high energy, intentional, practices,” Cartwright said. “The girls are putting in the work, and it’s fun to watch them begin to find a rhythm together.
“Every time we hit the court, our goal is to do our best. The win/lose outcome is not our focus, although I do anticipate winning some games this season. With the energy and enthusiasm they are bringing to the team, we are all looking forward to our season opener Tuesday night.”
In addition to moving into the volleyball head coaching position, Cartwright also takes over as the Meridian girls athletic coordinator in her second year with the Lady Jackets.
“I came to Meridian last year because I believed in the vision and mission the administration has for our school and community,” Cartwright said. “I chose to stay here because the MISD family is an incredible community filled with talented caring teachers, engaged parents and wonderful students.”
After growing up in Brock playing sports and graduating from Brock High School, Cartwright attended Tarleton State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. Although this season will be her first as a head coach, Cartwright has experience coaching cross country, volleyball, basketball, track and tennis.
“Growing up on my family property in Brock was a wonderful experience,” Cartwright said. “I enjoyed playing most sports, but especially volleyball. The strategy of the game and the way the team had to work in sync always captivated me.
“Then during my time at Tarleton State, I enjoyed working with the school’s volleyball team and learning from the many talented staff and faculty members. With this being my first head coaching role, I could not be more excited.”
Throughout scrimmages, tournaments and non-district matches, Cartwright plans to focus on the foundational concepts that build a solid volleyball program to get her young team ready for district competition.
“Learning to play through ebb and flow with your teammates comes with repetition and time,” Cartwright said. “As we play each scrimmage and kick-off our pre-season, we are focusing on key concepts that will prove to develop a solid team as we approach district play. Developing our athletes’ confidence in a sport that’s fairly new to them will be paramount in our season this year.”
After winning their first match in 41 years in a hard-fought and thrilling 25-23, 25-15, 20-25, 22-25, 15-13 victory over Three Way, the Lady Jackets advanced to the Class 2A postseason to take on top-ranked Crawford in a Bi-District playoff matchup.
With a group of young ladies coming back after gaining some valuable experience, Cartwright expects a total team effort to take the Lady Jackets to the next level.
“Our program motto this year is ‘We Before Me,'” Cartwright said. “Every player is being encouraged and equipped to lead in their own way, whether they are a vocal leader or they lead through the work ethic and heart they bring to practice every day. Every player matters.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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