KINGWOOD — For Preston volleyball coach Don Deal, June was an exercise in development.
The Knights hit the court for the WVSSAC three-week practices last month after a 2017 campaign that saw moderate success, but gone from the squad are seven seniors who took with them a wealth of experience.
Now, Deal is tasked with building another competitive program with just three returnees from last year’s varsity roster. For him, that work starts in the summer.
“The big change will be that we are a much younger team this year. I have been working with two of our upcoming seniors, asking them to take more of a leadership role on the team,” he said. “This should improve team chemistry and aid the coaches in developing the younger players, as I expect communication among players to be a challenge.”
One of those seniors, Jessica McClelland, is doing her best to build that camaraderie both on and off the court. With a younger team, McClelland knows that success will be dependent on teamwork and growing together as a group.
“In order to succeed, we’re going to have to work together and communicate,” she said. “With not as many returning players this year, I think communication is key.”
Deal is not the type to waste opportunity, and he made sure to use every chance available to get the team in the gym and build on the fundamentals that will be needed to succeed come August.
“We have utilized every day of the three-week summer program. The focus during the summer is mostly on conditioning and basic skills,” he said. “Many of our older players have work commitments and other things that kept them from attending, so we usually don’t work on varsity strategies in the summer.”
For Deal, the practices are critical as he finds there to be too much material to cover in the fall when starting from scratch each season. He likes to use the summer months to supplement or prepare the girls for what will come once the pre-season swings into full gear.
“Training in the summer is important because once our three-month regular season starts, there is way too much to accomplish in that short of amount of time,” he said. “It has been very difficult to compete with other schools when we don’t have a feeder program and most of our athletes are only committed to the regular season, not attending camps or participating in other leagues to gain experience.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the sessions, however, was the performance from the Knights’ incoming freshman class. According to Deal, the group made massive strides in the last month, and is settling in to be an integral part of the team once the season opens.
“Attendance for incoming ninth-graders has been fantastic,” he said. “They are energetic and easy to coach.”
McClelland also found herself impressed by the turnout and skill set of the newcomers, but said she was perhaps most impressed with the progress they’ve made.
“We’ve had a lot of freshmen out, and they’ve each shown a lot of improvement with every day,” she said.
Deal credits part of it to a long-term goal he has: To develop the middle school programs in the county.
“This year, our incoming ninth-graders are already ahead of previous years’ progress toward basic skills,” he said. “I feel in the next couple of years we will start to see a change for the better in Preston volleyball.”