GOLIAD - The biggest game of the season is the next game of the season. But, there is a familiar face to lead the Goliad volleyball team into the unknown.
Jess Morris has returned to coach her alma mater. The first-year coach has instilled a belief, mental toughness and a system that has allowed Goliad to return to the success she once orchestrated on the court.
Goliad (26-10, 12-1) travels to Edna on Tuesday night with a chance to win the District 30-2A title.
Edna (24-7, 13-0) will win the championship outright with a win. Meanwhile, a Tigerettes win means the two teams will have a one-game playoff to decide the champion and the team that receives a bye in the bi-district playoffs.
"We have a lot more fight in us this year. We're better and we know we have it in us," said senior setter Kayla Friend.
They also have someone on their side who has been there before. The last time Goliad volleyball made the playoffs, its head coach was an outside hitter for the Tigerettes.
That was 2006, and Morris was a senior on that team. Goliad lost to La Vernia in the regional tournament and has not made the playoffs since. Goliad has not won a share of the district championship since winning a second straight title in 2005.
These days, Jess is on the bench, and her sister Sydney, 16, is in the back row of the Tigerettes defense.
"I love being home," Morris said. "I love being in Goliad. I love the community. I love the people. I love the coaches and students. Unless I get fired, I don't think I'll ever leave."
They two sisters from a competitive family full of athletes. An older brother, Adam played basketball at Texas A&M-Kingsville and is playing amateur basketball in Mexico. A younger sibling may join Jess and Sydney on the Goliad varsity next year when she is a freshman.
"It has been a battle. We have a tough relationship," Jess said. "We're a tough love family, so I don't ever want to cause a scene in front of the girls and go all out on here because I don't want to scare anyone."
"It's been tough. We've had talks with our mom to figure this out. At the end of the day, I love it. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. (Sydney is) a big part of our team."
The younger Morris admitted the dynamic can be difficult at times, but one that has proven successful for the entire team.
"It's really hard. Sometimes, when I get yelled at it makes me want to turn around and yell back," Sydney said adding a smile and a smirk afterward.
Sophomore Megan Hilscher said the team chemistry has been the elixir to their success. She said some girls, like Morris and the Zamzow sisters, Ashtin and Avery, play other sports; some are in clubs, like Friend; while others, like her, focus on volleyball. Nevertheless they have used those different perspectives and experiences to make this a volleyball season to remember.
Though Goliad had a strong record and was cruising along in District 30-2A play after nearly two months of the season, its head coach said she noticed a change in her players at the beginning of the month - one that may serve them well going forward.
"I didn't have to say the same stuff over and over again," the head coach said. "Our game play, everyone was so much more intense and ready to go and fired up. They have really come together more as a team since October."
In practice, Morris keeps it simple and fun. There are times she will stop everything to teach small things, like reading blockers when on offense, not standing straight up when receiving a serve or attack, or being aggressive offensively, even when tipping the ball.
Senior Shana Elliot said the team's performances at an August tournament in San Antonio, as well as a four-set loss at Victoria West on Aug. 21 let the Tigerettes know they are a different team this year.
"We played West and held up pretty well," Elliot said. "Every time we think about those games because we played so well, so it inspires us to want to play like that."
Thus far, they have. Goliad has won nine straight matches dating back to a Sept. 14 loss against Edna. The last of those victories was in five sets over Industrial on Oct. 16, which set up Tuesday's big rematch with Edna.
That Industrial win came in a contest where eight girls were sick with a stomach virus either on game day or in the 48 hours prior to the match.
That contest also illustrated just how quickly the head coach has developed the trust of her players. Morris said she razzed senior middle blocker Avery Zamzow after her 25 kills in the Industrial met fell two short of her school record.
Whether the Tigerettes win or lose Tuesday night in Edna they are guaranteed to return to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Sydney Morris, who recalls the atmosphere around school when the basketball team qualified, wants to feel that
"It's really exciting to be in the playoffs. We have big sendoffs at school and signs going out of town. I want to show people that Goliad can be something and Goliad can do something. In the last few years everyone has given up on us."