A New Year, A New Coach, New Approach
Jekyll and Hyde were fictional characters. However, the Cedar Hill Lady Longhorns volleyball team is real and is experiencing a transformation akin to the aforementioned duo under first-year head coach Amanda Blackney.
After going 5-44 over the past couple of seasons, the Lady Longhorns had already more than tripled that win total at press time with a 16-8 record. The biggest reason, Blackney said, is one word.
“The number one thing is discipline on the court and off the court. Playing as a team. Discipline has been the number one factor,” she said. “I brought a sense of direction. This is where we need to be heading. Bringing knowledgeable coaches on board so our girls can get the best possible coaching.”
Such a turnaround is not new for Blackney. She did the same thing in her previous job at Everman, where they went from 12-25 to 25-12 in her first season. Again, the reason was discipline.
Discipline Is Key
“Just bringing discipline, building volleyball knowledge and the IQ of the game. Players at Everman really bought into what our goal was,” she said. “We competed with some of the top schools in the state, such as Burleson and Granbury. The same foundation and method that I’m doing at Cedar Hill. Discipline, hard work, attitude and the rest will come.”
The turnaround has the community excited – and folks don’t hesitate to tell Blackney. Cedar Hill has long been known for its football success in the fall, and Blackney said fans are finding it refreshing to once again have volleyball matches to get pumped up for.
“People are excited. People that are in the school, coaches and staff – they hear that we’re winning,” she said. “Walking down the hall and people ask us how’d we do last night? We’ve always been a football school and basketball school. It’s nice to see that volleyball is doing some great things and contributing to that winning atmosphere.”
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Building a Foundation of Leaders
Blackney, a Venus High School and Lubbock Christian University graduate, served as an assistant at Midlothian and Burleson Centennial before taking over at Everman.
Blackney inherited a program that features eight sophomores and four seniors. The confidence she’s instilling not only bodes well for the future, it’s sending the upper-class players out with their best season – and she’s making sure much of that credit goes to them as leaders.
“It’s always hard when you have a new coach your senior year. We’re putting a lot of pressure on them to lead. They are having to do things way differently and still be in that leadership role,” she said. “They are good teammates, and they have bought in and are setting a good example for our young team.
“Our opponents are graduating six to eight kids, and we’re graduating four. It’s really been impactful for our seniors to buy in, and they have. I think that will set up our younger kids for a lot of success.”
Blackney added that she knew full well the situation she was stepping into. But then, winners never back away from a challenge, and it appears that attitude has caught on with her players.
Mentally Tough With A Winning `Mentality
“I definitely knew before I got here they were struggling in the win column. I wanted to come in here and change the mentality,” she said. “We have to have a winning mentality. That’s always been the largest thing. We will be disciplined, and we will be mentally tough. My goal is to build the program to where we are a contender. We’re super, super young. We’re starting to click and come together. It’s going to be a sight to see in a few years.”
In the meantime, she has the Lady Longhorns and their faithful thinking playoffs this season, despite being in a very tough league. Of course, it will again take that aforementioned discipline.
“I definitely think we can get in there and compete. We’re in a super tough district with super athletic programs. We’ll have to dial in and be disciplined. We’ll have to go out and get it,” Blackney said. “It will come down to who will make the least amount of errors, and who will be mentally tough.
Getting Dialed In
“We have to play Cedar Hill volleyball, and we can definitely compete for playoffs. A lot of these growing pains are due to youth and lack of experience. Our sophomores will have three seasons to progress.”
Folks got a glimpse of that competitiveness when the Lady Longhorns met 11-6A opponent and perennial power Mansfield Lake Ridge in the Gold Bracket of the Forney Tournament.
Though Cedar Hill lost, it was a tough 25-19, 25-23 contest.
“We didn’t play our best match either. If we cleaned up errors, we may have had a better outcome. We have to fine tune our plays, we can make improvements on some plays,” she said.
And the win of which she is proudest this season? On Aug. 26 they played McKinney in pool play at the Forney Tournament and rallied from a big early deficit en route to a win.
“We were down 11-1 against a great program in the first set. They came out aggressive, and we were flat. I told my kids during a timeout, ‘We either play up or sit down. We’ll rise or we won’t.’ They rose to the occasion and won the match, two sets to one.
“To beat McKinney with as good of a program as they are was important for us. I’m most proud of that match. We showed our sheer resilience. McKinney was the best team in our pool, and it was our very last match of the day.”
A Tough Schedule Keeps Them Prepared
Making the turnaround even more impressive is the schedule the Lady Longhorns are playing. Blackney’s program will take on pretty much who wants to step on the court with them.
“I like that we’re playing hard teams in the tournaments. Playing teams that are also competitive in their district. Building our confidence and showing that we can persevere. I do like to play harder matches early on. You definitely want to play up as much as you possibly can,” she said. “Your confidence is up if you’re playing an easy schedule, but it doesn’t prepare you for your district. When I made the schedule, I made sure we’d play teams that would prepare us for district. I think that they’re ready for district.
“We need to fine tune some things, and we’re making some more strides. Each day, we get a little more confident, a little more hungry and a little more resilient.”
Even more important, Blackney said she wants to prepare her girls for life – which, she adds, also requires discipline for success.