The volleyball season might not officially start until this week, but new North head volleyball coach Libby Rodriguez is already making her imprint on the program.
Rodriguez’s first act as head lady of the Bulldogs’ volleyball program was installing a new tradition of having a midnight workout on the first official day of practice. Despite the unusual practice time, North players, from rising seniors to incoming freshman, were in full attendance as the Lady Bulldogs took to the track for their first workout of the season.
“This is a really great way to set the tone for the season. I’ve already gotten to work with the older girls a little in the spring, but this sends the message that things are going to be tough but you need your best effort every day in this program,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really excited about the results because the girls surpassed my expectations. Overall, our expectation is to win and finish in the top two in district and reach the playoffs along with giving our best every day.”
For those not familiar with Rodriguez, she is the sixth coach of the North volleyball program and comes to McKinney after a productive, seven-year tenure at Lewisville. Rodriguez inherits a North team that finished 18-18 under talented head coach Christina Friar in 2018 and qualified for the playoffs last season for only the fifth time in school history and the first time since 2013.
Even in cool, summer temperatures, Rodriguez’s first workout for her program wasn’t for the faint of heart as she had her team get into five groups to run eight hard 200-meter dashes around the track. Besides getting her team into playing shape, Rodriguez, who did this at Lewisville, uses the season-opening workout as a chemistry builder as well.
With seven letter-winners expected to return for the Lady Bulldogs, including first team all-district outside hitter Nylah Encalade, quickly developing good chemistry will be paramount for a team looking to make back-to-back playoff appearances for only the second time in school history.
“We’ve already started to get to know each other off the court and this is just another activity to improve our chemistry, which we are going to need because there will be very few upperclassmen on our team.” Encalade said. “Coach Rodriguez expects a lot and it’s a little different because relationships weren’t as strong as they already are this year. I’m glad to be bonding with our youngsters on the team and am looking forward to all of us outworking our opponents and winning a lot of games.”
Besides having a new coach and culture, North will have a lot of new faces in big roles as the freshman trio of Lilly Nicholson, Natalie Hughes and Tinley Merder are all expected to contribute right away. Like their older leader Encalade, the freshmen are embracing the unconventional start of the season while being excited about kicking off their high school careers this week.
“Everyone is really supportive, from the freshmen coming in to the other girls, and I’m very excited to be a part of what coach Rodriguez is starting here at North,” Nicholson said.
“Being around a group of girls and coaches who already have the mentality that we are going to outwork everybody and every team feels really good and starting with a workout like this helps make that a reality,” Hughes said.