Passion, new attitudes fuel volleyball resurgence

By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Daily Sun

— Passion.

It’s a word that comes with love and with desires of all kind.

And it could just be the secret weapon for Navarro’s volleyball team.

Talk to anybody on this team and sooner or later you will hear the word “passion.” They say it and they mean it.

“This team has passion,” said sophomore Halee Shower, one of eight players back from last year’s team. “Compared to last year, it’s night and day. We thought we had it last year, but you can tell the difference with this team. We never let the ball hit the ground without sacrificing our bodies. Everyone is diving and hitting the floor.”

Navarro hit the bottom of the floor a year ago when the Bulldogs went winless in conference play.

“It was really miserable,” said middle hitter Kelsey Schmidtberger, a 6-foot sophomore who can’t wait for the season to begin on Friday when Navarro competes in the Tyler Tournament.

“Losing all our conference games last year made us want it more,” she said. “The difference this year is that everyone on this team truly cares. Everyone goes 100 percent all the time. And our skills are better. The sophomores who played last year are better and the freshmen who are here are really good.”

Schmidtberger said last year’s team didn’t have passion, and some players just didn’t care.

“We had six girls last year and they held us back. I’m glad they are gone,” she said. “You have to care, and this team cares. There’s no one setting us back this year, and everyone is really focused.”

That focus and desire comes from the top. Coach Kasey McBrearty tried her best to ignite last year’s team with passion, but she was hampered by the fact her entire team was made up of freshmen. It’s was a long season, defined by some frustrations mingling with success.

“The battles we won for this team were not reflected in our scores,” said McBrearty, who is excited about this year’s team. “Having 12 freshmen was tough to manage. I recognize that the tighter ship I run, the more focused they become. All they need is discipline and direction.”

McBrearty’s sister Shea is the director of operations for volleyball at Southern Cal, and the Navarro coach spent some time at USC this summer. McBrearty said she learned a lot and pointed to volleyball legend Karch Kiraly, who will coach the US women’s Olympic volleyball team in 2016.

“Karch Kiraly has a one-strike system, one strike and you’re done,” she said of her new approach. “The difference this year is they have bought in. I think my passion has transferred to them.”

You can see it on the floor and in the mindset that this year’s team has embraced.

Just look at the day McBrearty had a doctor’s appointment and her players started practice on their own, running sprints.

“They were running sprints and Hallee Shower got onto them and told them they weren’t running fast enough,” McBrearty said.

That wouldn’t have happened last year.

Shower said it’s part of the new Navarro.

“Last year I kept my mouth shut,” she said. “I was a freshman and worried about making friends. This year I’m worried about getting a ring on my finger that says national champions.”

That’s part of the new look at Navarro, where everyone is diving to win every ball and soaring to new heights. Another difference is McBrearty not only has experience with the returning sophomores who were good enough to come back, but she has more depth with a freshmen class that showed up ready to play.

“Everyone has a role and everyone is spending time on the court,” she said. “Team-wise, we’re a much better team for that. My freshmen coming in made an impact. They changed the tone and brought a different kind of passion.”

The Bulldogs want to make an impact on the court.

“When someone substitutes in there is no doubt they can play,” Shower said. “Everybody has the same heart. We have confidence this year and we have better chemistry.

“This team doesn’t settle,” Shower said. “Last year we had 12 freshmen and we made excuses. We had a freshmen mindset.”

The 2013 season lingered with Shower, who is ready to change the team’s record and the way people look at Navarro volleyball.

“I was disappointed at the end of last year because we had so much potential,” she said.

“Not everybody bought into what (coach McBrearty) was saying. We would have been successful if we would have. It’s totally different this year — the effort, the attitude, everything. This year it’s real. This year showed me what a real volleyball team is.”