By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-If 2016 taught us anything about the Garden City volleyball team, it was that health can make or break your season. Breaking news, right? Well just ask Broncbusters third-year coach Jacquelynne Matula.
"It can tear you apart," she said. "We had potential last year, but we were never fully healthy."
Matula recruited a talented roster that included All-Region Honorable mention Bailey Martinez. But after a promising 2-1 start, the Broncbusters suffered a major blow when Hannah Hattabaugh was lost for the season vs. Dodge City on Sept. 2. She was one of two outsider hitters lost in a span of seven days.
"Those things happen," Matula said. "It happens in every sport."
But do not let the 2017 preseason poll fool you. Garden Citym was picked to finish last for the second time in three years. How has that played out with Matula?
"We are definitely using that as fuel," she said. "These girls know what we have."
What they have is a supremely talented roster; maybe the most athletic one the Broncbusters have sported since 2007 when they won 24 games and finished fourth in the Jayhawk West.
"I think our girls have meshed together really well so far," Matula said. "I like our returners, but the freshman have come in and proved that they belong."
Martinez leads the core returners. The sophomore will try and improve on a freshman season in which she led the nation with 868 digs.
"I really worked during the offseason," Martinez said. "I'm ready to lead this year."
Martinez is joined by sophomore setter Maddie Park and middle back Maddie Troyer. Park played in all but one match; Troyer in 21.
"I like the team we have coming back," Martinez added. "We've meshed better this year compared to last."
It helps to have two other girls that have spent time in Matula's system: Tishara Hicks (redshirt) and Shaney Tiumalu (medical redshirt who transferred from Western Nebraska). That said, it is the newcomers that may surprise some around the Jayhawk Conference.
Then there's Kansas stalwart Kaylee Linn from Lakin and Amarillo-product Lexi Schellhamer, who graduated from Tascosa High School.
"Both of those girls have great potential," Matula said. "We believe both will benefit tremendously from our program."
Matula also added Holcomb's Brynna Mcvey, a 5-6 setter who was a two-year starter for Longhorns Coach Jennifer Barrett. She finished her senior season with 118 kills and a .236 hitting percentage, while leading Holcomb back to the state tournament.
Nia Roberts is a defensive specialist from Pflugerville, TX, who began her prep career at Hendrickson before moving to Manor for her final two seasons.
"We've learned a lot from last years' experience," Matula said. "And the good thing is that these girls have done a lot on their own, which is huge."
In all there will eight new faces on this year's squad including new assistant Casie Lowden, who was coaching the Pacific Juniors Volleyball Club in La Verne, Calif. last year. Before she began coaching, Lowden was a four-year starter at Whittier College in Whitter, Calif. She replaced Daria Winkler who left after two seasons.
Garden City opens the regular season on Friday, Aug. 25 in the New Mexico Military Tournament vs. Pima. Their home opener is Thursday, Sept. 7 vs. Laramie County.