This is it. This is the year three Huntsville seniors have been pointing to since they were baby-faced sophomores. And if the first two days of practice mean anything, it appears as if the end result might make all of the waiting worthwhile.

Huntsville’s Sarah Hazlewood, Kristi Tydlacka and Heather Wilson have all been anxiously awaiting their senior volleyball season since they were teammates on the varsity squad two years ago. They’ve taken some hard knocks and survived nicely, thank you, in Class 5A.

Now they’re ready to be the ones dishing out the punishment on the way, they hope, to a softball-like playoff run later this fall.

“State. That’s what we’re shooting for,” said Tydlacka, the Lady Hornets’ starting setter who helped Huntsville finish second in District 14-5A last season. “Especially being moved down to 4A, we’ve got really high expectations this season.

“With the (Lady Hornets’) softball team going so far (in the spring), we followed that and drew a lot of inspiration from what they did.”

Finishing behind Klein and in front of both Oak Ridge and The Woodlands in the district volleyball standings last fall was an impressive feat for Huntsville’s relatively young group. A year older and wiser, the Lady Hornets say they can’t wait to see how far they can go in 2006.

“We’ve got eight seniors and we’ve got a lot of new, surprisingly talented players who are awesome,” outside hitter Sarah Hazlewood, the 14-5A offensive player of the year in 2005, said Tuesday.

“Our whole high school career has been leading up to this year,” Wilson declared.

“And we gained more than we lost,” added Tydlacka, who says she’ll miss passing the ball to her older sister, Tami, but she’s itching to start passing it to all of Huntsville’s many weapons who will be waiting to pound the ball to the floor.

Last fall, Huntsville defeated Waco in the bi-district round of the playoffs, but fell in the area round to Cedar Park.

“We want to break that mold,” Hazlewood said. “We seem to win one, then lose in the second round of the playoffs. This year we want to go a lot farther in the playoffs.”

Lady Hornets coach Debbie Hightower believes everything is lined up for her team to do just that. Back in 2000, Huntsville made its longest postseason run to date, all the way to the 4A regional quarterfinals.

“That stemmed from being in 5A where we were fighting just to keep our heads above water,” Hightower said of the Lady Hornets’ successful run six years ago. “In 5A it’s fight, fight, fight. Once that mentality is set up, you just kind of keep it up.”

The Lady Hornets advanced to the postseason in each of the past two seasons, competing against 5A teams and schools that were much bigger than HHS. That’s going to help the Hornets immensely, according to their coach.

“That’s the mentality now. The girls know they can do it,” Hightower said. “We’ve put everything into this season. We’re saying, ‘Let’s take it all the way this year.’ The girls are not going to be satisfied, they want to take it all the way. That’s been on their mind since the season was over last year.”

Hightower has told her players it’s not going to be any easier in 4A. Brenham advanced to the regional finals in 4A last year, Montgomery is traditionally strong in volleyball, and Willis, according to the Huntsville coach, made some major strides last season.

“Everybody thinks that moving to 4A means we’re going to stomp everyone,” Hightower said. “This 4A district is just as tough as the 5A district we were in. Brenham had a regional playoff game here and the girls came and watched. They know how tough Brenham is going to be.

“We’ve just got to do what we always do, take it one match at a time. I’m looking forward to the scrimmage Friday, and the reason is, I just want to see if we’re as far along as I think we are.”

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