Members of the 2015 Houston High School varsity volleyball team.

Barry Wheeler’s official first day at Houston High School was May 28. He joined his new volleyball team in the Big Red Building for weightlifting.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, these kids are crushing it,’” Wheeler recalled. “They would not stop until they were completely done – every one of them. That’s pretty impressive because the past couple schools I was at, they didn’t work hard in there.”

The new leader of the HHS volleyball team, Wheeler said he has been encouraged by the team he inherited from former coach Skye Wade. He praised his players’ work ethic, cohesion and athleticism.

Wheeler said it’s not uncommon to have a handful of players stay after practice for extra work.

“I really think with the type of effort and time kids are putting in, things are going to change here at Houston,” Wheeler said. “We may not always have the best or fastest athletes, but we’re going to try to outwork everyone on the field or court.”

Houston returns several key pieces from last year’s team that had an 8-19-2 record. Camryn Scheets earned second team all-conference honors at setter and is one of four returning starters along with junior Abby Casper and seniors Sarah Kelley and Katelyn Martinez.

Wheeler said the Lady Tigers will play a triple middle offense – a strategy that developed while watching his team play over the summer. The goal is to utilize the tallest players on the roster – Kelley, Martinez and junior Alyssa Hayes – to block the middle and right side.

Alongside that trio will be Casper, who moves from libero to outside hitter, and the combination of Krista Scott and Emily Shea on the opposite side.

Martinez and Scheets, who had team highs of 405 assists and 33 aces last year, will stay on the floor through the entire rotation. Kelley will play the front row and serve before coming out. Hayes is paired with sophomore setter Chloe Hunninghake, who moved back into the district over the summer, and will only play on the front row.

Sammy Garrett and Sevanna Rowland are defensive specialists. Junior Jazelle Brannon is an opposite hitter. Freshmen Melody Buse, Darby Bell and Tara Stanton will also dress on the varsity team.

Wheeler said he will likely play a rotation of 8-9 players on most nights.

“Whoever plays well stays on the floor,” he said. “We have kids who get hot and cold. We’ll try to go with the hot hand. It’s not a big deal. If you start cooling off, we’ll put someone else in there and give you a chance to go back in later.”

Wheeler has set a team goal of reaching the 20s in each set. For the regular season, he would like to see the Lady Tigers finish in the top three of the South Central Association. In the postseason, his goal is to reach the district finals in a group that includes reigning state champion Mountain View-Liberty.

“We’re not brave enough to say we want to win the thing with Liberty stacked like they are,” Wheeler said. “We want to hang some plaques. If we’ve got to hand second-place plaques for a little bit, let’s hang those.”

The Lady Tigers are hosting a spaghetti dinner and scrimmage beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday. They open the 2015 season at home Tuesday against Licking.

“It’s such a breath of fresh air to be here,” said Wheeler, who won the Class 2 state title in 2007 at Stockton. “When you start speaking, they are listening to what I say. They’ve been extremely receptive. It’s such a pleasure to be here and doing this.”

Aug. 25 Licking 6 p.m.

Aug. 27 Cuba 6 p.m.

Aug. 29 Branson Tournament

Sept. 1 at Summersville 6 p.m.

Sept. 10 Conway 6 p.m.

Sept. 15 at Cabool 6 p.m.

Sept. 17 Ava 6 p.m.

Sept. 21 Eminence 6 p.m.

Sept. 22 Willow Springs 6 p.m.

Sept. 24 Salem 6 p.m.

Sept. 26 Rolla Tournament 6 p.m.

Sept. 26 Waynesville JV Tourn. 9 a.m.

Sept. 29 at West Plains 6 p.m.

Oct. 3 Licking Tournament 9 a.m.

Oct. 5 at Winona 6 p.m.

Oct. 6 at Mountain Grove 6 p.m.

Oct. 8 at Thayer 6 p.m.

Oct. 12 Summersville 6 p.m.

Oct. 13 at Liberty 6 p.m.

Oct. 17 West Plains JV Tourn. 6 p.m.

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