The Angelo State women's volleyball team might have graduated the Standard-Times Sportswoman of the Year, but the Rambelles continue to hold themselves to the highest standards.
"Obviously, when you lose a player like Mallory Blauser, things are going to be different in your gym," ASU coach Chuck Waddington said. "But I would say the level of want-to in my gym is as high as it's ever been, and that's exciting to me."
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Blauser was a first-team All-American in leading the Rambelles to the NCAA Elite Eight national tournament for the first time in program history. But Waddington, in his 10th year, said the program can and should aim for a national title every single year, even if it's a lofty goal.
"The expectations are the same every year," said Waddington, who has led ASU to the regional final three times. "Last year, we achieved another one of those goals that we haven't before. Getting there was great, but that's not the end goal. We want to take more steps in that directions this year."
Two key pieces to the puzzle will be seniors Brianna Sotello and Abbie Lynn.
"Those two have been on the court since they were freshmen and bring a ton of experience in high-level play," Waddington said.
Sotello and Lynn were integral parts of the Rambelle team that was NCAA South Central Region runner-up in 2015 in addition to helping the program make history last year.
The Rambelles, who were 34-4 last season and ranked 11th in the nation to end the season, are picked to repeat as Lone Star Conference champs and opened the season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
"Our expectations never change," said Sotello, who was second-team All-American last year at the outside hitter position. "We want to win conference, host the conference tournament, host the regional and win regionals. Our gym is always competitive and we're always looking to be at the top."
A near miss of the national tournament in 2015 drove the 2016 team, and Lynn said the taste of the national tournament last year tweaked the palettes of this year's returners.
"Last year we really opened the door to the possibilities," said Lynn, who was the third-leading hitter on the team behind Blauser and Sotello. "So this year, we're really focused on not just getting to the Elite Eight but actually winning there. So that's a change. Other than that, our level of play and our expectations, they never change."
The Rambelles also return National Freshman of the Year Meghan Parker, senior Morgan Seaton, junior Michaela Sifuentes and sophomore Tulani Titley.
Parker, a setter, picked up 38 matches worth of experience at the "quarterback" position on the team last year.
Seaton, at middle blocker, has been the Belles' leading blocker for the last two seasons. Libero/defensive specialist Sifuentes and 6-foot middle blocker Titley were also big parts of the team that did not lose a single home match.
"Those have some very high-level experience they're going to bring to the table," Waddington said.
ASU also introduces several transfers to the mix, including sophomore middle blocker Anna Graham, who was at Northern Colorado for a year after a standout high school career at Bushland. Haley Coulter is a sophomore outside hitter who transferred from Division I Tulsa.
Also returning are seniors Leiyona Young and Jenna Markey, along with sophomores Bailey Dunn, Eadara Files and Ali Davison. Incoming freshmen are Baleigh Allen, Bailey Mulder and Grace White.
"Every team is different," the ASU coach said. "Every year we've got a new group. The same expectations but a new group, so how we mold them into what we need is kind of the challenge every single year."
The coach expects the Belles' lofty reputation in the region will help sharpen the team.
"The target on our backs is bigger," Waddington said. "We get everybody's best match. And it doesn't matter who we're playing, they want to beat a team that is ranked in the Top 10. We're always going to get everybody's best shot."
The Belles begin their season on their home court on Friday, Sept. 1 against Limestone College. That will be the first of four matches in two days at the Kathleen Brasfield ASU Invitational.
This article is written by Amy McDaniel from San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.