Lake Dallas's Caelyn Gunn

Freshman Caelyn Gunn is part of a young Lake Dallas volleyball team that head coach Jason Roemer said has made strides in its development despite a subpar pre-district record thus far.

As of Tuesday, the Lake Dallas volleyball team had gone just 3-13 to begin the 2018 season.

The poor record through a difficult pre-district slate, first-year head coach Jason Roemer said, belied the progress being made by a young Lady Falcons group.

“That’s not where we wanted to start, but I don’t feel like the 3-13 record is real indicative of the caliber of team that we have,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of close games. … We just haven’t been able to finish sets.”

Roemer said that lack of closing ability was evident again Tuesday, when the Lady Falcons dropped a five-set thriller to Sanger in their home opener. Despite the loss, Roemer said he believes the experience gained in going all five sets will help prepare his squad for the rigors of district play and continue to help hone its ability to shut the door.

While the ups and downs of learning how to win often accompany a team only starting one senior on a regular basis (and that only boasts two seniors on the roster, overall), Roemer said there’s reason to be hopeful.

“We have some really good pieces, but we’re young,” he said. “We are in the learning phase of our season. The record goes away on Sept. 7 when district starts. Everyone is 0-0. We’re trying to keep them focused on Sept. 7 and learning from these situations we’re being put in. I’ve been real proud of the growth and learning that’s happened.”

That early-September date marks the beginning of the Lady Falcons’ first trek through District 8-5A, where early favorites seem to have emerged in Denton (16-3 as of Tuesday) and The Colony.

Roemer and his players know achieving their goal of making the playoffs in the seven-team league, which also includes Little Elm, Justin Northwest, Denton Ryan and Denton Braswell, will be no easy task.

“It’s going to be 12 matches of just outright good volleyball, and every night’s going to be a war. There’s not going to be an easy night,” Roemer said. “That’s me planning on us competing at a high level and learning to win some games. I don’t think we’re going to be an easy out in district.”

The program’s two seniors, starting libero Bailey Avila and fellow libero Mercedes Zaragoza, have now played for three different coaches during their time in the program.

Instead of folding in the face of adversity or allowing the revolving door to affect their attitude, Roemer said the pair has taken to its new role at the core of the Lady Falcons’ leadership.

“They have responded really well. They’ve done a great job of leading us,” he said. “That’s a new role for them. Last year’s seniors were the leaders of the ship, and every year you have the challenge of developing new leadership. They’ve done great.”

In the regular lineup, Avila is surrounded by the youth that permeates the Lake Dallas roster – sophomores Macie Banks and Lanie Schantz hold down the middle, with freshman Caelyn Gunn and sophomore Candace Collier on the outside and junior setter Ruthie Forson and junior Sloan Griffin playing on the right side.

Roemer said Gunn and Collier have played well in the early going, leading to a bit of an outside-dominant scoring approach for the Lady Falcons. However, the Lake Dallas head coach said his young middles have already taken large strides in their development this fall.

“The middles have come a long way,” he said. “Their potential is really off the charts. [Schantz] has done a great job. … She had 11 kills and one error on Tuesday night. We’ve been needing more offense out of the middle, and they’ve been doing a good job.”

Roemer prefers to break the season down into three distinct parts. The pre-district slate is where the bulk of the learning occurs before the team hits the conference schedule and dukes it out for the right to make the third phase – the postseason.

As the first phase draws to an end, Roemer is confident his club has taken advantage of its trial by fire.

“[It’s about] putting the kids in these adverse situations. We’re having trouble playing late in sets, and there’s no other way to get put in that situation other than just being in the fire,” he said. “It feels like we’re getting better each time we step out [on the floor], so that’s encouraging.”

For continued coverage of the local sports scene, follow @TaylorRaglin on Twitter.

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