The Kingwood Mustangs are no stranger to having high expectations. The school has been prolific in sports for quite some time and volleyball is no exception. Kingwood’s volleyball program has won 22 of the last 23 district titles and has been region champions 5 times. Yet, Kingwood has never won that final game. They came close in 1991 and 1996 as they were just a game away from securing a state title. Could 2014 be the year that Kingwood finally lifts that state championship trophy? Will they be the final team standing this time? Coach Ashley Earhart and a couple of her girls gave us the inside scoop on what to expect from the Lady Mustangs this season.
Recently Coach Earhart and her staff held tryouts for the team and she was pleased at what she saw from them “the numbers were really awesome. The kids came back in great shape. We started with 18 100-yard sprints at 6:30 in the morning on Monday and every single varsity kid came back and just rocked it out,” Coach Earhart said of the girl’s performance during tryouts. “We’re really proud of the 3 teams we chose.” They did have one surprise. They had a move in from New Jersey: Victoria Wallace. She is a setter and will be a senior this year. Coach Earhart says “she fits in really well with the girls.”
The Lady Mustangs are playing in an exciting tournament this season. They are traveling to Hawaii August 14-16 to compete in a 16-team invitational tournament that is 3 days long. There will be 2 Texas teams but mainly consisting of Hawaii and California teams which will be the top teams from those states. “It’s going to be very competitive right out of the gate,” Coach Earhart admitted, “It’s very difficult going in there not knowing your competition but we’re going in there with the idea that we’re going to win it.” The girls have each paid a deposit but have raised 100% of the funds through offseason fundraising such as babysitting, kid’s night out, merchandise fundraising, and even hosting a golf tournament. “They took a lot of pride in the fact that they paid for their own way to go.”
Coach Earhart is a Kingwood graduate herself having once played volleyball for the Lady Mustangs. When she was a 14-year-old student-athlete under long time Kingwood volleyball, Coach Krista Malmstrom, she went as far as to proclaim to her “I will take over your job one day.” That’s just how much pride Coach Earhart takes in being a Kingwood Mustang. “I love this community, the school, I started my career here and I plan on ending my career here.”
With Kingwood being so successful over the years at a consistent rate, one may wonder, with girls graduating every year…how does Kingwood keep up the success year-end and year-out? Coach Earhart believes that the girls set an expectation and hold themselves to such a high standards that it makes them consistently work hard to achieve what they want. “Whether we have 14 seniors or 4 seniors we have an expectation of being a winning tradition. We play for those girls that used to play here.” Coach Earhart says that they even have shirts this season with “winning tradition” on them. She also says that alumni such as Meredith Rankin, Vivian Bianchi, Catherine Heck, and Tara Gallagher often show up to the games or call Coach Earhart to see how the girls are doing.
The girls had a lot of success on the volleyball court last season. They only lost 6 games but unfortunately 3, including their final game in the playoffs, were to one team: The Woodlands. It was a tough loss but this season they are returning 14 lettermen. Coaching Earhart is looking to two girls in particular to help lead the team along the way: Seniors Baylee Barsalou, an outside hitter, and Sophie Zielinski, a middle blocker/right side. Both girls began their volleyball journey in middle school and have now worked their way up to all-district players. “In 7th grade I got really tall so I said I guess I’ll try out for volleyball,” Zielinski said of her early days in volleyball. She also has a sister, sophomore Effie Zielinski, who will play alongside her at middle blocker. Effie’s club team won the national championship this summer as she was named to the all-tournament team and was put on the GHVCA Pre-Season Watch List. Barsalou broke the school record for kills in a single match (26) on September 3, 2013 against Klein Oak breaking the previous record of 24 held by Caitlin Rance. She was also recently named to the GHVCA Fab 50 List. Both girls admit that they are looking forward to playing against The Woodlands more than any other team. Rachel Reed and Courtney Quinn are club teammates of theirs and though they are good friends off the court they are competitors on the court. “I think they have a huge target on their head and we want to be the first ones to get them,” Barsalou stated. Coach Earhart said that their coming in with a lot of knowledge and also went as far as to say “these girls need to put the team on their shoulders.”
Kingwood begins district play September 12 at home against Oak Ridge and travel to The Woodlands on October 3. Both games are at 5:30pm.