Spending a few hours at Marble Falls High School Aug. 1 allowed me to observe some of the athletes donning the purple and gold for the football and volleyball teams and talk to head coaches about their impressions of the first day.
On the artificial turf at Mustang Stadium were other media members who are as curious about this year’s football team as me. After all, on paper it looks like a full-on rebuild with senior tailback Caleb Vidal being the only returning starter on offense, while a couple more, including junior lineman Jeremiah Bales, are on the defensive side.
As the football players were running gassers — sprints from one sideline to the other — the volleyball players were on the Leonel Manzano Track running their mile, a tradition among hardcourt players in the sport. The mile is a measurement coaches use that tell them plenty about that athlete.
So what do the two sports have in common? And why use this space to highlight it here? Because for the first time in a long time, I believe these athletes are seeking the same thing — respect — for entirely different reasons.
The Mustangs have enjoyed two years of advancing to the Class 5A Division II playoffs where they won two bi-district championships and an area contest after finishing third in their district both years. But the leaders of those wins, the cornerstones of the program, were the class of 2022, which graduated in May. Therefore, it’s an opportunity for these new Mustangs to earn their own respect away from a motivated class that was incredible to follow and watch throughout their time wearing the purple and gold.
The Lady Mustangs endured District 25-5A that included Georgetown High, Georgetown East View, Cedar Park, Leander High, Leander Glenn, Leander Rouse and Liberty Hill. Only Rouse, which won the district title, advanced past the first round of the playoffs a year ago. That’s a credit to District 26-5A that included Dripping Springs, New Braunfels Canyon, Kerrville Tivy and San Antonio Alamo Heights. Dripping Springs and Canyon, which beat Rouse in the regional quarterfinals, played each other in the region IV final with the Cougerettes advancing to the state tournament.
Both Marble Falls head coaches indicated their players understand the challenges of the new district they’re in. In football, that’s District 13-4A Division I with Burnet, Lampasas, Comal Davenport, Comal Canyon Lake and Taylor. In volleyball, that’s District 24-4A with Burnet, Georgetown Gateway, Jarrell, Lago Vista and Lampasas.
In football, gone are the district games where the Mustangs can put up 70 points on a district opponent and have a running clock in the second half. The players and coaches know the Mustangs are going to have to play 48 minutes and force opponents into mistakes while they limit their own. Fans won’t be bored, which was something conveyed to me the last two years, because the members of this 4A district will have coaching staffs and athletes who put in the same work in the film room, in the weight room and on the practice field. In short, the Mustangs won’t be able to outwork the opponent for a win. They’re going to have to win the old-fashioned way – by earning it one yard at a time.
In volleyball, the Lady Mustangs are re-energized for the same reasons the football team’s opponents have. Unlike District 25-5A, their opponents don’t have access to club volleyball in Austin and must rely on players preparing in their local gyms and weight rooms to get better. That’s not to say the competition in District 24-4A is easier. On the contrary, the athletes in that district are very talented and well coached. It is to say the 4A district has an even playing field. The only difference might be in the number of players on each roster. But make no mistake – the Lady Mustangs believe they have enough to finish in the top four in the standings to qualify for the playoffs, a first in about a decade.
That type of belief typically helps teams. Let’s see if it does the same for these Lady Mustangs.
To be honest, I’m gearing up for a very busy and memorable fall, just the way we all like it.
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