It’s a sore subject to talk about, yet it’s one Tony Graystone answers because it means his program is beginning to show progress.
Yes, the season ended with a loss — but, for the first time in more than two decades, the Texas Tech volleyball team concluded its campaign in the postseason.
That’s something to relish, but Graystone is quick to point out his team wants more.
“The optimism is off the charts,” said Graystone, who guided the Red Raiders to a 17-13 overall record and 7-9 mark in Big 12 play a season ago. “We have so many returners that, you know, it’s not hard to get them there. You know, they came in hungry and they know how last year ended. And as happy as we were about getting there, and we know we could have done more. And that stuck with them all spring, and I felt like that was a good motivator for them.”
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The first part of that journey officially started Tuesday morning and afternoon as the Red Raiders went through a couple of practices to shake off the rust while the coaching staff got to work with several freshmen and perfect their craft.
It was a much different vibe from the beginning of the week, which required signing a bunch of forms and sitting.
“I feel like we’ve been waiting on this for a long time,” Graystone said. “Summer just kind of drags every year we get through camps and then there’s this waiting period. And (Monday), honestly, is the worst day of the year because we have meetings, and we’re all back. But we’re not doing anything really productive. And so to finally get in there this (Tuesday) morning was good.”
Kenna Sauer, who finished with a double-double of 18 kills and 18 digs in the five-set loss to Florida Gulf Coast, agreed with Graystone.
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“Yeah, everything was like really heartbreaking,” she said. “After that, a lot of fire was kind of built up. I think we had a good spring. We had a lot of instances last season. I think we shot ourselves in the foot. And coming into this year, I think we just want to eliminate all the chances that we hurt ourselves. Like if somebody’s going to beat us they’re gonna have to beat us. And we don’t beat ourselves.”
The players’ first chance to compete against someone without a red and black uniform is 4 pm Aug. 18 as the Red Raiders host North Texas for an exhibition at the practice gym inside United Supermarkets Arena. The Red & Black Scrimmage occurs two days later before the regular season begins.
Texas Tech is scheduled to compete in the Notre Dame Tournament — taking on Notre Dame at 6 pm Aug. 26 and Milwaukee at 1 pm Aug. 27 — before playing its first home match, welcoming Tarleton State for a 6 pm Aug. 30 contests.
KJ Adams, a graduate student after playing three seasons at Grand Canyon University, feels like her team will be ready thanks in part to the youth movement. Adams is one of 10 upperclassmen, which consists of three juniors, six seniors — two in their fifth year — and the lone graduate playing libero.
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“I think it’s a fun advantage to also have a lot of freshmen,” said Adams, who ranked first in the Big 12 with 485 digs and played in 29 of 30 matches at libero last season. “You get a lot of spunk. They’re gonna jump higher than you, they’re more excited than you. You know, suddenly, you’re like, ‘Oh, hey, why are you on my heels?
“I think that just like adds to the competitive nature because it’s not just going through the motions. They want your spot. They want your job. So I think that just like heightens the game, and it makes sense.”
Last season, while she wasn’t a plucky underclassman, Sauer proved to be the spark that jolted the Red Raiders to the next level en route to a spot into the NCAA Tournament.
Sauer, who was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team, transferred from Missouri and was looking to build up her confidence on the attack among other facets to improve her on-court game.
Graystone found the right mix of bravado and intelligence in Sauer, who turned her mindset around and led Tech in kills (364), kills per set (3.34) and service aces (24) among other statistics as part of a breakout season. She went on to garner AVCA Southwest All-Region and All-Big 12 first team honors, while finishing in the top 10 in kills and points during conference and earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week twice.
“Honestly, the simple answer is kind of Kenna Sauer,” Graystone said when asked what took Texas Tech to the next level. “And I’m telling you, that kid plays like she’s she’s gonna ball out every night. And I feel like, our talent has been pretty good. And it’s just been pulling it all together and getting that belief within ourselves that we’re going to get it done instead of just being in the fight.
“And if you look at Kenna, she’s never going to do something halfway. And if she’s gonna get on the court and compete, she’s playing to win. And I feel like the rest of the team finally just looked at her and said, ‘ Yeah, we’re there too.’ And then it was it was we’re good to go. But I give her a ton of credit for how she kind of changed just the mindset of her teammates and got them to get over the top. And. that was like the missing ingredient . That little X-factor.”