SUGAR HILL — The idea that a little change can go a long way is hardly a new one, and it appears a few changes have had gone a particularly long way for Lanier’s volleyball team.
The Longhorns have had varying degrees of success in recent years, having qualified for the state playoffs five of the past six years.
But if their start to 2019 is any indication, they may be on the cusp of a historic season thanks to one very big change, and a lot of other little ones.
The Longhorns won their first 12 matches of the season, and their current 14-2 record is still the best start in the program’s history.
And the best may still be yet to come. At least, first-year coach Ted Deppe is convinced it can be.
“The talent has always been here,” said Deppe, who came from East Hall the offseason to take over as Lanier’s head coach. “We had played them a couple of times (while at East Hall), so I was just excited about the opportunity to coach so much talent.
“I wouldn’t say surprised. A lot of these girls play club volleyball. I think 10 of them. … There a few key positions that, of course, are question marks. ... We’ve got a couple of other positions that we had to work on, and the girls have come into their own.”
The talent level is only one aspect of the Lanier job that was attractive to Deppe when it came open.
From Deppe’s perspective, taking over at Lanier was a strong decision both professionally and personally.
“At East Hall, I did a lot. I coached four sports last year, and had really been seeing somewhere where I could come and coach volleyball because that’s what I do. I love volleyball. And I’ve been seeing somewhere where I can spend more time with my family. When this position opened (at Lanier), I found out about it through a friend.”
Based on the results thus far, it appears Deppe and the Longhorns have made a perfect match.
On the court, they have jelled into to a cohesive machine behind several holdovers like middle hitter/blocker Lizzie Campbell, who leads the team with 140 kills and 51 total blocks, fellow senior Alex Beckman (team-best 29 aces and 131 service points, plus 60 digs), sophomore Myahn Byrd (team-best 73 digs, 126 kills, 16 aces) and newcomers like senior Hana Ault (team-best 265 set assists).
But it has been the cohesion the team has built off the court that Campbell believes has been the biggest factor in what is starting to develop into a breakout season for the Longhorns.
“This year is probably one of the first years that we’re all super close and like sisters,” Campbell said. “We all really love each other. We’re best friends off the court, so it’s definitely been different. In the past, we haven’t had that connection, but we definitely have that connection this year.”
If there is one point in which it became clear the connection among the team would be different from any before, it came before the season even began, when Deppe took the team to a volleyball camp sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tenn.
“The kids had never been to an FCA camp, and we took them up there (during the summer). I told them that before we left, this camp was going to change their lives. … They came together as a team.
“The first day of camp was not so good, but we had a really good meeting one night when (the players) got together and it was like a switch came on. And they’re still changing. There are still some things we’re working on to make things better, but they came together as a family. And I think that’s what’s been missing, from what I’m learning. It was just the family aspect and trusting in each other and trusting in the process.”
Trust was perhaps the most important aspect the trip to Tennessee helped build, not only among themselves, but with their new coach.
And while Ault admits some of the players were skeptical at first, they have all bought in to his coaching style and philosophy since.
“Before we went, Coach Deppe was telling us that it’s going to rock your world and change everything. And we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah,’” Ault said. “But when we actually got there, I remember once specific night two nights into the camp we all shared everything personal about us, and it really helped us bond.
“So on the court, we just got so much closer to each other, and I think that’s really helped us become successful.”
So far, so good, and Campbell believes that with continued cohesiveness and effort, the Longhorns can build further on their fast start, especially after winning their opening two matches in Region 8-AAAAAA play over Apalachee and Winder-Barrow this past week.
“I’ve played on the team for four years. I was a freshman on varsity,” Campbell said. “It’s really awesome that we have the potential to be really good. So finally having the right coach and the right people on this team that want to win. So we’re pretty proud of ourselves so far.”