Kelli McKinnon of Byron Nelson in recent tournament action. Shawn Smajstrla ssmajstrla@star-telegram.com
Kelli McKinnon of Byron Nelson in recent tournament action. Shawn Smajstrla ssmajstrla@star-telegram.com

High School Volleyball

‘Iron sharpens iron’ - why Northeast Tarrant has such great volleyball teams

By John English

Special to the Star-Telegram

August 30, 2017 01:37 PM

Just off Texas 114, southwest of Lake Grapevine, there’s a stretch of about 15 miles that includes four of the top volleyball programs in the state.

Trophy Club Nelson and Southlake Carroll were ranked eighth and second respectively in the Class 6A division of the Texas Girls Coaches Association Aug. 29 state rankings, and Colleyville Heritage and Grapevine are ranked fifth and 20th respectively in the 5A division of the same polls.

So what is it about this area that produces such formidable volleyball talent — something in the water?

“I think iron sharpens iron,” Nelson coach Libby Pacheco said. “All of our players in this area have been competing against each other since they were kids. So as volleyball continues to get better in the area, the players in this area just keep raising the bar.”

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We want the kids to love the game when they are young and find a passion for it. Then, we want to continue to fuel that fire at the high school level by increasing the stock, so to speak, by ramping up the level of competition and feeding into rivalries and school tradition.

Grapevine coach Whitney Woody on building a top-tier volleyball team

So what is the correct way to assemble a top-notch, high quality volleyball program?

“There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to build,” Grapevine coach Whitney Woody said. “We want the kids to love the game when they are young and find a passion for it. Then, we want to continue to fuel that fire at the high school level by increasing the stock, so to speak, by ramping up the level of competition and feeding into rivalries and school tradition.”

One of the Mustangs’ biggest rivals is fellow GCISD power house Colleyville Heritage, which won a District 8-5A championship in 2016 and advanced three rounds in the playoffs.

Colleyville Heritage coach Brianne Barker-Groth said that there certainly are seasons where there is not as much talent as in previous years, but added that the talent pool is so deep in the area that programs like Heritage, Grapevine, Carroll and Nelson are typically able to produce competitive teams on a yearly basis.

“We don’t call it rebuilding,” Groth said. “We call it reloading, because there is so much talent in this area and so many girls that grow up playing club volleyball and watching the high school girls and wanting to play themselves, you usually have players that are ready to fill those roles every season.”

Ryan Mitchell, who coached the Carroll girls to a 5-6A district championship and trip to the regional finals in 2016, said that his underlying philosophy as a coach is built on unyielding principles.

“I believe that there is a right way to do things, and it comes more from an ethical point of view,” Mitchell said. “We believe in clear and honest communication. We develop relationships with kids. We teach more than volleyball and value leadership and ethics training in addition to volleyball.”

Prior to Carroll, Mitchell led the Lucuas Lovejoy girls to five consecutive state championships between 2008 and 2012 and was honored as the 2012 National Federation of State High School Associations National High School Coach of the Year.