Skye Carrasquillo admits she initially felt a bit awkward in red and black.
“The very first time I put on a Houston Tiger shirt, I thought, ‘I never would have worn this,” the Licking High School graduate said.
But a few months into the job, she is feeling at home.
Carrasquillo was hired in May as the new Houston High School volleyball coach. She replaced Amy McNew, who resigned after one season and accepted the same position at Mountain Grove.
The fact that Carrasquillo once played for the Lady Tigers’ biggest rival — she graduated from Licking in 2006 — is a source of constant ribbing from her players.
“They always say, ‘You’re a Houston Tiger now,'” Carrasquillo said. “They give me a hard time.”
Carrasquillo inherited a team that was hit hard by graduation. Five senior starters departed from last year’s team that compiled a 16-14-2 record. Two of those players, Sarah Pierce and Erica Keeney, were three-year starters.
She knows expectations outside of the program may be low. After all, a core of the team is gone and Carrasquillo is a first-time head coach. But she refuses to use either as an excuse and told the team as much on the first day of practice.
“I do not see us as underdogs,” Carrasquillo said. “I think work the girls have put into summer and practice thus far, they are taking steps forward and higher every single day.”
Junior Alexa Ichord, who was also a spot starter as a freshman, is the lone holdover in the starting lineup. She and Amber Sillyman are the team’s setters.
The Lady Tigers replace Keeney and Pierce, both all-conference selections, with three new middle hitters. Sydney Cremer, Haley Kelley and Sarah Garrett all move up from the junior varsity team.
Haylee Kell and Kaitlyn Neal return after playing back-up roles last season at outside hitter. They are joined by Desiree Venable.
Lauren Hoover, a senior, is Houston’s libero.
Freshmen Hayley Walker, a server and passer, and Kylee Elmore, a middle hitter, will play mostly JV but be available to the varsity team, according to Carrasquillo.
Houston lacks team height. Carrasquillo hopes the Lady Tigers can counter with their competitiveness and improved communication.
“We’re not a very tall team, but I think they make up for it in different ways,” she said.
Carrasquillo has made discipline one of her top priorities since taking over. She has established rules on and off the court, including grade requirements and curfews, that she believes will make her girls better players and people.
“They are there to help the girls out,” she said. “Just being disciplined at everything you do — making yourself a better player and holding yourself accountable to a higher standard than others may hold you to.”
Although awkward at first, Carrasquillo said she has no trouble being a Houston Tiger. Even her assistant coach, Vicki Castleman, is a former rival from her playing days who is now a colleague.
“Even though I graduated from Licking, I want to win,” Carrasquillo said. “I have a great group of girls. I want them to win every single match we play.”