Gobblers' seniors hunting for playoff berth in final year
CUERO - A year ago, the Cuero Lady Gobblers found themselves in the unfamiliar position of packing up their volleyball gear while other teams were preparing for the playoffs.
The Cuero volleyball class of 2013 wants to make sure that won't happen this season.
"We really want it this year," said senior outside hitter Abby Sheppard
The senior made the most of their non-district match against the Nixon-Smiley Lady Mustangs on Tuesday night.
Sheppard led the team with 14 kills and 13 digs, CayCay Toot had eight digs and Ashley Grahmann added five digs to help the Lady Gobblers to a 3-1 win over the Lady Mustangs.
The win improves Cuero's record to 16-8 while Nixon-Smiley drops to 8-12.
"Seeing the seniors not complete that job last year, we definitly wanted to do it, not just for ourselves, but for them too," said senior reserve Brandi Phillips. "We're not used to not being in the playoffs."
In 2011 Cuero finished in a tie for third place in District 28-3A. Cuero was forced into a playoff tiebreaker with Gonzales and Plesanton and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Lady Gobblers were reclassified into a tough District 26-3A this season
"It seems like since we didn't make it last year no one really has faith in us so we really want to prove them wrong this year," Grahmann said.
The seniors spent longer hours in at Cuero Junior High during the summer for open gym to ensure 2012 doesn't end in the same disappointment.
"They knew that that tough district, they would have to do something this summer other than just sit at home," said Cuero coach Rebecca Riojas.
Added Toot: "Seeing the seniors not complete that job last year, we definitely wanted to do it, not just for ourselves, but for them too. We're not used to not being in the playoffs."
The team came into the 2012 season with four returning seniors, six returning starters and an added edge to not repeat the near miss of 2011.
To do this, established players had to not only mesh with underclassmen, but accept different roles.
For Sheppard, this meant a move from middle blocker to outside hitter and Grahmann splitting time between libero and defensive specialist like she did last season.
Riojas said the unselfishness displayed by the seniors has a way of spreading to the rest of the team.
"They want to do it for these seniors, they want them to have a good senior year," Riojas said. "If it means cheering on the bench, stepping in to serve or whatever it is, they're going to do whatever is asked for them."
The non-district slate provides teams a chance to fine tune their game before the stakes increase.
Even though the Lady Mustangs were the visitors, it was Cuero who looked a little weary during the early portions of Games 1 and 2.
"Against them, we could never win the first couple of points," Riojas said. "It's always from behind, I don't know why."
Cuero spotted Nixon-Smiley an early 5-1 lead in the opening frame, but ended it on a 10-3 run. The Lady Mustangs went ahead 6-1 in Game 2, but the Lady Gobblers scored six straight to take a commanding 17-11 lead.
Cuero won the match 25-18, 25-20, 14-25 and 25-19.
"I'm actually pretty excited they jumped out (since) we had a hard time doing that," said Lady Mustangs coach Jane Iams. "Now we just got to put the two pieces together."
Missy Odom had seven kills and Tiffani Shellenbarger pitched in seven digs for Cuero. Alena Alvarez led the Lady Mustangs with 12 assists while Devon Tristan added seven kills.
Cuero travels to Altair to play Rice Consolodated on Friday and begins district play at home against Smithville on Sept. 14.