Effort with a capital “E”. That is what Head Coach Judy Penner said her Wagoner Lady Bulldog volleyball squad has set as a team goal to bring into practice each day leading up to and throughout the 2019 season that opens this week.

The girls have been working hard in league action all summer long. Varsity, junior varsity and freshmen athletes spent two solid weeks in Hulbert before the varsity moved on to compete in the Catoosa League.

Penner said with community support of local fundraisers, the Lady Bulldogs paid for a trip to Wichita State for a four-day team volleyball experience where they continued to hone their skills.

In June, the girls attended 12 Summer Pride workout days as well.

“All of this work shows how committed the girls are to making our program even more competitive,” Penner said. “Every new season is filled with hope and excitement of seeing how the girls are eager to come into the gym each day and how their hard work this summer is paying off. That shows us the maturity of our team.”

Team leaders this season will include Megan Hawkins, Kennedy Winn, Marlee Medlin and Mary Kate Bobo.

“Megan is our setter from last year and is beginning to step up into more of a leadership role. Her hands have gotten even better with controlling the ball,” Penner said. “Kennedy is becoming more comfortable and skilled in being an outside hitter. She has worked hard this summer with hitting the ball down.

“Marlee, who played some middle for us last year, will be a force on the net,” the coach continued. “She is our tallest girl and is using her height to her advantage. She is just a junior and turned some heads at the Wichita State Camp this summer.

“Mary Kate is our returning libero. She is our defensive specialist who is also stepping up in the leadership role and running the defense.”

Penner said when a team graduates three seniors who comprised 75 percent of the front row and leadership, one might think it would be a big obstacle for the team to overcome. Yet she credits her new Lady Bulldog seniors for taking that weakness and turning it into a strength.

“Our strategy and focus for this season has become defense,” she noted. “We have always thought this group would be our best passers, and when you watch the girls pass a hard hit ball, it becomes super fun to watch because of the competitiveness.

“Another strength of our program is how much knowledge Coach (Zack) Ange and Coach (Randi) Pawpa bring to the team. We have a great relationship with each other and it shows on the court through building relationships with the team as well.”

Penner said the Lady Bulldogs will be competitive and win games this year. They open the season Thursday at home and will compete in the Tahlequah Sequoyah Tournament Aug. 16-17.

“We look forward to the tournament as it will give us a good test of where we stand so far with teams in our class,” she said. “We also look forward to repeating as Conference Champions.”

Christy has been covering news and sports in Wagoner County since 1988. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in Public Relations/Journalism.