The window of opportunity is wide open for the Mustang Broncos.
Just two seasons ago, Mustang reached the state championship game for the first time since 1988 and nearly captured the school’s first title since 1984.
However, after missing the state tournament in 2021, Blake Newman knew the program’s atmosphere was due for a change.
“One of the things we as a coaching staff really wanted to instill is a championship way of doing things,” the team’s second-year head coach said. “After graduating 10 seniors, we knew we needed to start changing the culture and this was the window we needed to step into to get it done.”
Newman will look to the team’s five seniors – Mikayla Eagle, Anissah Gaines, Rylee Hart, Emma White, and Grace White – to establish and set the bar this fall, especially by taking things up a notch during practices and workouts.
“One of our main goals is to approach every practice and competition with a high level of intensity and effort,” Newman said. “We’ve challenged the seniors to strive to make the players around them better and instill a good work ethic with the underclassmen so that when they graduate, they’ve left a legacy and something to look back on and be proud of.”
It will be a strong team concept going forward for the Broncos. Trust and avoiding complacency are key factors according to Newman.
“It takes a full team to accomplish goals,” he said. “That’s one thing about volleyball is you have three contacts, but one person can’t make all three. So, you have to be able to trust the person next to you and respect their role and what they have to do to make it all come together.
“We’ve also addressed setting your own bar and not playing to the scoreboard. You can’t feel comfortable with where you’re at or you’re never going to grow.”
Newman likes what he sees so far.
“I feel like we’ve got some good talent and a good vibe going on as far as cohesiveness. This group has been open to everything and it has been fun to watch. I hope we can continue to build on that.”
Eagle, Gaines, Hart, and the White sisters, as well as a deep group of underclassmen will look to establish their roles and build upon that compatibility as the 2022 season gets under way.
Eagle will line up as the lead attacker on the outside, along with junior London Cooper. Both will play the opposite side as well with Emma White and junior Erin Mack. Sophomore Brooke Dunn and freshman Grace Davis should also play a factor.
Grace White leads the team’s first line of defense at middle blocker, along with junior Tatum Spencer and sophomore Emrie Brown. Newman says he is excited to have upperclassmen spearheading two of the squad’s most important positions.
“We’re lucky that the seniors we have play big time roles for us,” Newman said. “And that we have them at those positions. Mikayla has been a great example for London and the same way with Grace and Tatum. It’s good for them to have somebody to look up to and watch them do it.”
Newman also sees the same relationship building between Emma White and Mack on the right side.
“Emma battled injuries all last season,” he said. “Having her back will be huge as well as Erin, who played as a sophomore. They both have great attitudes and have shown leadership and bought into the team concept.”
Gaines and junior Raeagan Bullard will anchor the setter position, looking to assist the team’s scoring this season.
“Anissah is coming off a knee injury and hasn’t had the chance to really get things going at the varsity level. But she has earned her way into the position. She’ll play alongside Raegan, who got to see some action last year and gained valuable experience. I’m very excited about where those two are and the position as a whole.”
After a strong preseason battle, Hart and junior Alex Mitchell will lead the way at the defensive specialist position, as well as freshman Raegan Glenn. Mustang will have plenty of depth at libero and all positions, fueled by both experience and youth.
“It’s exciting to know we have talent for this season and for years to come,” Newman said. “We are deep at all positions we are running right now. I’m blessed with the chance to let these girls practice against each other and sharpen each other’s skills so that in the case something happens, it will be next girl up and we will be ready to go.”
Versatility will also be at Mustang’s disposal.
“We try to get them to practice multiple spots on the floor,” Newman said. “Your best chance to help the team might not be the position you’ve been playing coming up. It’s important to be versatile and open minded in volleyball. If you know the responsibilities of the players around you, then you get a better sense of how your team plays around your responsibilities. You never want to overplay your zone.”
With the needed ingredients in place, including a group of seniors who have bought into the current culture remodel, the Broncos are excited to see what 2022 has in store.
Newman has a checklist ready to go and understands his team can handle whatever unfolds.
“You may think you know the journey, but there are twists and turns along the way. We’ll deal with those as they come, but so far, everything is going as planned.
“Intensity and effort lead us to our goals of not only hosting a regional but winning it. And then making the state tournament leads us to our end goal, which is winning the first state championship at Mustang since 1984.”