In the eyes of Coppell head volleyball coach Julie Price, her players and coaches have always felt like an extension of her own family.
In a normal year, Price, who guided the Cowgirls to back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012, would get in at least two tournaments in the month of August and would have been with her team in the same gym since the beginning of the month.
But, COVID-19 changed that situation.
In response to a spike in the number of case of positive coronavirus cases in Texas’ largest metropolitan areas, the University Interscholastic League delayed the start of practice and subsequent season for teams in Classes 5A and 6A by one month.
That’s why she is beaming from the eyes in anticipation for the start of fall practice on Monday.
"If you can see me right now, you would see the biggest smile on my face," Price said. "It's indescribable how much we miss our kids and how desperately we miss being in the gym with them. Even with all of the new guidelines that they're asking us to do, it's overwhelmingly doable with the goal of being in the gym with the kids."
Once the Cowgirls step into gym, they’ll have only a few days to turn the switch from practice to game mode. Coppell will practice for four days before walking onto the court Friday evening for their first preseason scrimmage. The Cowgirls will host Sachse, Grapevine and Eaton. Coppell will turn right around on Saturday and will play JJ Pearce inside Coppell Sports Arena.
Because of COVID-19, Price, like every other high school volleyball coach in Texas, was forced to scramble to find new opponents after the UIL changed the format of the season. Regular-season tournaments are not allowed this year, so teams are allowed a maximum of three duals per week.
Price said she revised the team’s schedule three times before settling on the final version within the last few weeks. But she added that the professional relationships that she has built with other coaches and the number of teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex have made it easy for her to fill any voids in the schedule.
After the preseason concludes Saturday, Coppell will get in 11 non-district duals, starting Sept. 15 at host Keller Fossil Ridge, before District 6-6A play commences Sept. 29 at national power Flower Mound. The Lady Jaguars are No. 17 in the preseason Super 25 volleyball rankings by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
“I want our kids to be really intentional on working on our rotations and serve-receive and making the most out of the opportunities that we have on the court,” Price said. “We don't have 30 preseason games to get us ready. We have about 10. I want us to come in and perform."
Coppell will have a different look at the setter position. Reigning district setter of the year Kinsey Bailey is now dishing out assists for Presbyterian College but that’s where Price got creative. Realizing that last year would be Bailey’s final season in a Cowgirl uniform, she gave playing time to Mari Taira, now a senior, and Taylor Young, now a sophomore, to help groom them for that role.
Price also needed someone to team with senior and Texas Tech commit Madison Gilliland after the Cowgirls lost Peyton Minyard, who is now blocking kill attempts for Boston College.
Gilliland and Minyard combined for 776 kills and 201 total blocks in 2019, but Price may have found a perfect replacement in 6-foot-4 junior Aley Clent, who was on Coppell’s junior varsity a year ago.
“She had a ton of growth last year,” Price said of Clent. “She's a big kid. I think she is going to get some playing time in the middle, for sure.”