Ingram volleyball

In this file photo taken on Aug. 15, 2017, Karlie Bonam and Anna Crittenden, both freshmen at the time, rise to earn a block. Bonam and Crittenden enter their junior year hoping to win a district title and make a deep playoff run.

Welcome to the debut of Title Watch, a summer column that will preview Hill Country teams with the best opportunities to contend for titles in the upcoming school year. After all, championship teams are forged during the dog days of summer, when it’s easy to relax and become lazy. Athletes who are passionate about their sport, however, will spend these next two months working out in the gym with their teammates and playing select travel ball. Sure, they also do these things because they hope to someday play in college. But teams with multiple college-level players have a better chance of winning championships than teams with zero college-level players (shocking, right?).

Ingram Tom Moore’s volleyball squad has several players who aspire to play college volleyball. As a result, the Lady Warriors have a chance to be really special this fall. They return seven contributors from last year’s team that collected 22 wins, the most wins at Ingram since at least 2002. Moreover, they also bring back two first-team, all-district selections (rising juniors Ansley Gelsone and Anna Crittenden), the District 26-3A newcomer of the year (rising sophomore Makenna Gelsone) and the best blocker in the district (rising junior Karlie Bonam).

All four players should have been playing on Ingram’s junior varsity team last year. Instead, they made a habit of pummeling teams with older players, ending Ingram’s three-year playoff drought in volleyball. Last year, their goal was to change Ingram’s culture and advance to the postseason. This year? Second-year coach Tony Vela believes they can win a district title and make a deep run in the playoffs.

“We have some great pieces coming back,” Vela said after a morning workout on Tuesday. “I am excited for what they are doing to do this fall. … We have to win the off-season first. Then, we got to win the preseason and then the district. Once we get past district, we focus on playoffs. I want these girls to be able to win a district title for their sake, and have something to take pride and ownership in.

Team Strengths: Talent and experience

Last year, the Lady Warriors were flush with talent — just look at their four core players. Crittenden has four older siblings (Justine, Reagan, Ian and Dee) who all played sports, so she’s been around athletics her entire life — and it’s apparent during matches. Bonam’s vertical jump is so good that she will probably be dunking a basketball by her senior year (That’s not an exaggeration, either).

And Ansley and Makenna are also gifted athletes who can help Ingram win in a variety of ways.

“They were athletic,” Vela said. “But they were babies on the court in the game of volleyball.”

This year, those four athletes also have experience to go along with their athleticism. They have played in raucous environments, and received a taste of the postseason. They know how to perform in pressure situations. It’s another reason to be excited about the upcoming fall.

According to Vela, they’ve had a good off-season, laboring to improve their speed, strength and agility.

During the days they weren’t in the weight room, they were in the sand pit, playing sand volleyball. Turns out, learning how to move quickly on a sand surface is incredibly beneficial when preparing for the upcoming season. On Tuesday, Karlie, Ansley and Makenna joked that playing in the sand has given them a greater appreciation for indoor volleyball.

So in other words, the 2018 Ingram team loaded with athletes might be even quicker in 2019. That’s bad news for the rest of the teams in District 26-3A.

“We want to get our speed of the game faster,” Ansley said. “I want to be on the dot consistent with our passes, serves and stuff like that.”

Biggest question entering the season: Can the Lady Warriors stay healthy?

Injuries were somewhat of an for the Lady Warriors last season. Makenna played the last couple of games with a torn meniscus and had to undergo surgery a few days after the season had ended. While powering through such an injury was a testament to her toughness, Makenna probably doesn’t want to relive a similar episode in the fall.

In fact, in this writer’s humble opinions, injuries are the only thing that can prevent the Lady Warriors from having a great season. Remaining healthy will be a major key for their season.

Players to watch: Riley Griffin, Harley Ince and Jazmyn Vela.

All three players were freshmen who played on varsity last season. They were good last year, but Vela expects them to be even better in the fall, especially considering that they have spent the last few months growing faster and stronger during the off-season.

In fact, Vela believes all his players will keep improving, as long as they continue working hard in the summer.

“I believe that we are going to do some really good things this fall,” Vela said. “It’s what we do between now and Aug. 1 that’s going to determine everything. But right now, we are heading in the right direction.

“To beat the high-level teams, you have to speed up your offense. You have to be quicker; you have to be stronger. (So far), we have been able to do those things.”

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