Forrest Murphy/WD Sports

Millsap freshman Baylee Chriestenson and the Lady Bulldogs are meshing together well so far in 2019, winning their first match of the season, 3-0 versus Mineral Wells Tuesday.

The Millsap Lady Bulldogs’ 2019 roster includes five underclassmen (four sophomores and a freshman), yet through preseason workouts and the team’s first regular season game, a 3-0 win over Mineral Wells, Head Coach Courtney Hammett said she has been impressed with the level of game knowledge her players have displayed.

Part of Hammett’s optimism stems from the excellent leadership displayed by her handful of upperclassmen, Millsap’s head volleyball coach said.

“We have one senior, Cassandra Collins,” Hammett said.

“She’s our setter and right side hitter, and she’s a three-year varsity player, so she’s very smart. She’s very precise and very vocal. And then we’ve got two other veterans, Cady Schade, she’s been a varsity player since her freshman year and then Taylor Cotton, who has been on varsity since her sophomore year. They’re both juniors. They’re also vocal, but more so leaders with their performance on the court. 

“They all lead in different ways, but because they all have different leadership qualities, it comes together and gives the younger girls everything they need.”

Even more, Hammett said she has seen promising development from the Lady Bulldogs’ younger players, especially the team’s lone freshman.

 “Our freshman setter Baylee Chriestenson is a natural,” Hammett said.

 She’s extremely athletic, and her volleyball IQ is extremely high. She knows the game, she understands how to run an offense. I can show her an offense one time and then throw a ball into play, and she executes it. She plays setter and right side hitter for us. She plays club as well, so she’s got that outside experience. She’s gonna help Millsap volleyball for the next four years.”

The Lady Bulldogs head to Grandview Friday for their first tournament, before heading to Glen Rose for another tourney next week, two vital competitions to help the team prepare for a competitive District 7-3A, Hammett said.

“This weekend we go to Grandview,” Hammett said.

“It’s a pretty competitive tournament. We went to it last year and I liked how it was set up and the teams that are in it really push us. And then next weekend we go to Glen Rose. That is probably the most competitive tournament we’ll be in. There’s a couple teams in our district in that one. It challenges us a lot.

“Our district is probably the toughest in the state. We have Boyd, Brock and Peaster. They’re usually top-three in our district. Boyd went to state, Peaster’s gone to state in the past and Brock is always really strong, so our district is extremely tough.”

However, Hammett stressed her players have the grit to compete with any of the above teams.

“Our girls have competed with them every time we match up. Our girls have risen to the challenge whether we’ve won or lost. 

“They’ve always stepped up and played their absolute best against those teams, and I expect nothing less this year. I expect them to play every single team the same, and that’s with effort, intensity and a will to win.”

That confidence is shared by Millsap’s upperclassmen, including Collins, Schade, Cotton and fellow junior Kennedy Burkhall, who each cited the team’s collective work ethic and strong bonds.

“Our chemistry is so much better than last year,” Collins said.

“We have four new girls and they just fit right in. We’re working so well as a team.”

Cotton seconded that notion.

“We’re already gelling more than previous years,” Cotton said.

Burkhall said the Lady Bulldogs are continuing to further develop that chemistry, and that the team should only improve as it happens.

“Probably our biggest strength is the hard work everybody’s willing to put in,” Burkhall said.

 “I think it’s gonna take a hot minute to click, but I think when it happens, we’ll be really strong.”

Schade agreed with Burkhall’s comments.

“We have a really young team, and they want to put in the work.,” Schade said.

“We’re clicking this year.”