By SCOTT W. COLEMAN, Four Points News
Coming off the most successful season in program history, expectations couldn’t be higher for the Viper volleyball team. Finishing 40-10 overall (more wins than the program’s first four years combined) with a regional tournament loss to eventual state champion Dripping Springs last year capped off a meteoric rise of the Vandegrift program in recent years that has garnered statewide attention.
Losing several seniors — including all-state setter Lexi Lopez, who is now at Texas A&M — is just one of the challenges coach Kelly McCarter Skidmore’s team faces this season. With the growth of Vandegrift’s enrollment, the Vipers will move away from competing with perennial state power Dripping Springs and instead will face 6A competition with longtime powers Lake Travis and Westlake.
“We return several starters off a team that posted 40 wins and advanced to the regional finals, but moving up to this Class 6A district will be challenging,” Skidmore told the Four Points News last week.
Two of those returning starters, juniors Simone Priebe and Ryan Palmieri, earned all-tournament recognition for their efforts in helping the Vipers earn a third-place finish at last weekend’s Westwood Showcase tournament. Priebe finished last season as a first-team all district player in District 25-5 and has already locked in her college choice with a verbal commitment to Pepperdine where she will play beach volleyball.
Senior Bella Benoit, a standout from last year’s squad, will pair up with Palmieri in the middle. Benoit is another player who has already sealed plans for college, having committed to West Point. Yet another senior, Jacqueline Ribiero, is already committed to play at the collegiate level before the start of her final high school season, headed to play beach volleyball at the University of California at Berkeley.
With that kind of talent on the court, the Vipers are as prepared as they can be for the move to Class 6A competition.
In last week’s Westwood Showcase tournament, Vandegrift plowed through first-day opponents on Thursday including Sanger, Mesquite Poteet and Hyde Park. Returning to the second day of pool play on Friday, the Vipers knocked off St. Stephens, McNeil and host Westwood to earn a spot in Saturday’s Gold Bracket.
A morning win over historic rival Cedar Park set Vandegrift against the tournament’s eventual champion, El Paso Coronado. Despite a loss to Coronado, Vandegrift was able to dispatch Round Rock for a third-place tournament finish.
It was the kind of performance Skidmore needed to see in the season’s first tournament, as a number of younger players were able to spend time on the court alongside a very talented group of returning starters.
Vandegrift returned to action against Hendrickson on Tuesday before traveling to the Dallas area to compete in a tournament hosted this weekend by Northwest ISD. Leander ISD hosts its annual tournament next weekend and the Vipers will play a final group of non-district games before starting 25-6A play on Sept. 19 on the road at Lake Travis.
Aug. 18-20 Northwest ISD Tournament
Aug. 25-27 Leander ISD Tournament
Aug. 30 @ Cedar Park 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 Cedar Ridge
Sept. 9 Bowie
Start of District Play
Sept. 9 @ Lake Travis
Sept. 13 @ Leander
Sept. 16 Hays
Sept. 20 Vista Ridge
Sept. 23 Westlake
Sept. 27 @ McNeil
Sept. 30 @ Lehman
Oct. 4 Lake Travis
Oct. 7 Leander
Oct. 11 @ Hays
Oct. 14 @ Vista Ridge
Oct. 18 @ Westlake
Oct. 21 BYE
Oct. 25 Lehman