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St. Joseph flies toward volleyball opener (video)

Aug. 8, 2012 at 3:08 a.m.

Lady Flyers co-coach Allyson Griffin hopes her team can put up similar numbers to last season, when it opened the season 23-1 and earned a playoff berth. St. Joseph returns five starters from last year's squad.

2012 LADY FLYERS AT-A-GLANCE

• 2011 Record: 26-8

• 2012 District: TAPPS 3-4A

• Returning Starters: Analise Ybarbo, middle hitter; Lindsey Still, middle hitter; Peyton Cuellar, libero; Natalie Bales, setter; Lauren Kurtz, outside hitter.

• Key Losses: Kate Tucker, Emily Conti.

ST. JOSEPH SCHEDULE

• Aug. 10, at Hallettsville (scrimmage), 8 a.m,

• Aug. 11, St. Paul, Kenedy (scrimmage), 8:30 a.m.

• Aug. 13, at Palacios, 7 p.m.

• Aug. 14, at Victoria West, 6 p.m.

Aug. 16 to 18, Shiner Varsity Volleyball tournament

They sat near a wall in the St. Joseph gym. After another long practice, the five seniors on the St. Joseph volleyball team were sweaty, tired and ready to go home.

Monday's season-opening match against Palacios cannot come soon enough for them.

That match will be the beginning of a more challenging non-district schedule for the Lady Flyers, as they look to re-establish themselves as one of the top TAPPS Class 4A programs in Texas.

St. Joseph finished the 2011 season 26-8, but were surprisingly bounced in the first round of the TAPPS 5A playoffs by Houston Christian.

Bailey Knippa and the four other St. Joseph seniors say they know this season is their last shot to make a deep run in the playoffs and advance to the state tournament for the first time in three years. Moving down a classification, as well as maturing together in the offseason, might be the foundations of future successes.

"We are growing from that and learning from our mistakes," said senior Brooke Brooks. "We've become a lot closer in the offseason as a team. We're bonding more. We're working a lot harder this year because everyone wants it this year. We're ready to move forward."

Brooks, a physical and emotional dynamo off the bench for St. Joseph last season, will be a defensive specialist this year.

In all, Flyers co-head coach Allyson Griffin has five returning starters. Lindsey Still and senior Analise Ybarbo are returning middle hitters. Underclassmen Peyton Cuellar, Natalie Bales and Lauren Kurtz are also returning to a team that figures to be more competitive in the smaller classification.

Seniors Bailey Knippa, Katy Brown and Carly Boles should add some additional depth for St. Joseph. The latter two will be outside hitters, while Knippa will be a right-side hitter.

Brown said the team is putting in the work now, "so when we are in games and someone wants to give up, we can push each other. Everyone is gaining trust through two-a-days."

At one point, the Flyers were 23-1 last season, before fading down the stretch. Griffin believes a tougher non-district schedule, which includes games against Victoria West Yoakum and potentially Shiner will prepare her team for TAPPS Class 3-4A play.

Before the seniors begin focusing on the district slate, they are incrementally approaching the season.

"We're trying to set weekly goals to where we can beat our opponents each week and move further from there," Ybarbo said. "We want to gain that momentum and keep it."

For now that list has two items: get through two-a-days and start the season strong. The Flyers will find out the success of both goals Monday in Palacios.

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