McKenzie Nichols and the Southlake Carroll volleyball team know they have their work cut out for them this season. But this program has often featured so many talented players that younger members don’t get the playing time they would in other programs.
Advancing all the way to the regional finals in 2016 before losing to Lewisville Hebron, the eventual state champions, the Lady Dragons lost seven Division I players from last year’s team and fields a relatively young squad this season.
On top of graduation losses, the team lost one of the country’s best players when Asija O’Neal decided not to play this season.
Nichols, a first team all-district selection last year as just a sophomore, is a team captain this season and someone who appreciates the tremendous amount of skill that surrounded her in 2016.
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“Losing that many talented players was huge,” Nichols said. “But I believe in any circumstance, there can be additional pressure. Luckily, I have great teammates who will always have my back and will pick me up when I’m having a bad game.”
We are a very young team, so of course we will have our weaknesses. But I think that makes us unique in a way because we have so much room to grow and expand our opportunities.
Coach Ryan Mitchell said that Nichols’ leadership role on this year’s team is due in large part to the way she was able to distinguish herself as an impact player last season, despite playing in the shadows of two veteran setters.
“McKenzie had a great sophomore season in 2016,” Mitchell said. “We had two Division I-committed senior setters on the team, and yet she still found ways to add value and set the entire season. With their graduating, Kenzie finds herself running the young team and relying on experiences she gained last year.”
Nichols spent her summer playing club volleyball, where her team finished second out of 16 programs in an open tournament, and played in several beach volleyball tournaments as well to keep in shape.
The Carroll junior said expectations for this season are just as high as they were last year, and said she believes that this team is capable of going a long way.
“We are a very young team, so of course we will have our weaknesses,” Nichols said. “But I think that makes us unique in a way because we have so much room to grow and expand our opportunities.”
Mitchell said that Nichols’ commitment to improvement is what makes her a great player and added that if Carroll is going to have another long run into the postseason in 2017, Nichols is going to be a cornerstone.
“McKenzie is an exceptionally smart player,” Mitchell said. “She puts her hitters in the best possible position to be successful. She also instills confidence in her teammates. People love to play with her.”
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