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King has confident Lady T-Hawks gunning for conference title

As Muriel King enters her second year as head coach of the Lady Thunderhawks volleyball team, there are no doubts what her ambitions for the upcoming season are. “We have 12 girls on the team at the moment and we’re expecting more once the school year starts,” King said. “We have several seniors returning who’ve been playing together since they were freshmen so I have high expectations for this season. Our goal is to work hard so we can make it past regionals this year and take that Marinette & Oconto (M&O) Conference Championship.”

With expectations set high, the ladies have been hard at work practicing twice daily across the past two weeks. “The girls have been coming to practice at 7 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. three times per week,” King said. “They’ve been putting in a lot of hard work so they’re really showing me how well they want this season to go.”

With the return of star seniors Yehli Rodriquez, Mercedes Ackley, Iselena Torres, and Tiara Barber, the Lady T-Hawks are stocked with experienced leadership talent and they will be looked upon to provide just that. “I’m expecting the seniors to lead the younger players,” King said. “We have four freshmen on the team so I’m looking for them to help set the pace and show them how to play ball.”

“I expect to improve my hitting skills and defensive play,” Senior middle hitter Yehli Rodriquez said. “I think as a team we’re pretty close together but that can always improve. We expect to get past regionals and take Crivitz which has turned into a pretty good rivalry. It’s even spilled over from the volleyball season into the basketball season.”

Rodriquez understands the role of being a team leader and she’s embraced it. “As a team mentor I don’t want the younger players to take things personally,” Rodriquez said. “I think sometimes the way we bring our message to them comes off the wrong way and that’s not the intention. I remember being a freshman and I know what it felt like when an older player was critical of my play. I knew it wasn’t personal and they were trying to help me which is what we’re doing. So I know it’s important to reach out to the younger players and let them know it’s never a personal attack because even as seniors we don’t know everything. We can learn things from them too, so they shouldn’t be afraid to speak up.”

Though she has been a Lady T-Hawk for four seasons now, senior Tiara Barber also strives to improve her game. “I definitely want to get my hitting down and my passes up more,” Barber said. “This would help the team as a whole win more games than we did last year. I definitely want to beat Crivitz this year because they’re such good hitters.”

Senior setter Iselena Torres-Mejia also has high personal and team expectations. “I really want us all to work hard on the court because we have a lot of talent on this team,” Torres-Mejia said. “I don’t want anybody to get too down on themselves when things get tough so we can push through the hard times. I know the younger players are just getting started so I want to be able to encourage them so they can keep going if they make a mistake.”

Senior libero Mercedes Ackley has also set the bar high with regards to expectations. “I expect myself to help pick my teammates up when needed and I expect my teammates to also be encouraging to everybody and not be putting anybody down,” Ackley said. “We’re a team and I expect us to act like one. I think we can have a really good year and I would like to ask the fans to come out to the games and support us because it really helps.”

Freshman setter Mariah Barber is hoping to learn as much as possible from the upper classmen this season but is also looking to contribute. “I’m looking to them to set good examples,” Barber said. “But I also want to push everybody to do their best also. As a team I know we all appreciate all the fans coming out and cheering us on so I hope everybody can make it to a lot of games this year because it’s going to be an exciting year. I just really hope we can take the conference this year.”

Now that the Lady Thunderhawks are entering their third year in the M&O Conference, King has a pretty good idea of what to expect from their upcoming opponents. “We know Crivitz is going to be a tough matchup for us but we’re looking to make a strong showing on our regular season schedule,” King said. “Many of the teams we had difficulties with last year, like Wausaukee, graduated a lot of seniors so I expect these to be good games. I’m really looking for us to take this conference championship this year and I know the girls really want it as well.”

The Lady Thunderhawks will host Niagara on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the Turtle School. They then hit the road on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to take on Lena at 5:30 p.m. and on Thursday, Sept. 6, they will travel to Gillett for a 5:00 p.m. start time.