El Dorado’s varsity volleyball program has won two games over the last two seasons. The win total isn’t indicative of how far the program has grown, however.
El Dorado alum Derek Easter joined the volleyball program four years ago. A former basketball standout at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Easter, the head coach for two seasons, vowed to provide stability for a program that had more coaches than wins over a five-year stretch.
“In my first year, we lost every game but saw continuous growth throughout the season. I even got compliments from long standing opposing coaches complimenting that the team competed harder than they've ever witnessed in their tenures,” Easter said. “The biggest change I've seen in the program is we've had an opportunity to be in the gym all summer. I've been told this is the first time that's been done for the program. The ability to push their limits this summer has the girls ready to go compete at a higher level this year. We talk a lot about playing with energy and the girls are learning to play with good energy. When they struggle, they pick each other up. They're constantly looking out for one another. I encourage them to manage themselves better as a team because great teams hold each other accountable and we're laying the foundation to establish that type of culture for our program.”
A major positive for the players is consistency at the top. The first step to success is to stop the revolving door at the coach’s office.
Easter believes his players have an understanding of what he expects.
“As a coach, I challenge the kids by constantly pushing their limits on the court. The kids know they have to raise their level of play to compete with the top tier teams and they buy into what I'm selling,” he said. “A lot of the players have either played for me in junior high or are returning from last year's team and know that I demand excellence on and off the court. They also know that our goals are not easy to build a contending program.”
The Lady Wildcats graduated five seniors off last year’s club.
Easter listed Mallory Whitten, Davin James, Kamya Bryant and Breyonna Stewart as key returning players. A talented group of sophomores will join, led by Kaycee Otwell, Kalea Moseby, London Ingram, Katelyn Hayden and Diana Obiozo. Freshman Layla Webb and newcomers Daisy Tabe and Laila Reynolds will also boost the talent level with their skills and leadership.
“This team will look different from previous years' teams because we are very deep at hitter. Last year where we had two or three reliable hitters, we now boast lineups where we have eight or nine hitters who are capable of dominating a game as a collective unit,” said Easter. “The trio of James, Reynolds and Tabe will be a formidable group to be reckoned with throughout the entire conference. Whitten will be logging heavy time on the court with being our only returning setter and she's a powerful hitter as well and has the capabilities to read the court to find open holes on the defense. We will be youthful on the court but once we get the reps and game experience, we will have a highly competitive team every night we step out on the court.”
After just one victory a year ago, it wouldn’t take a lot of success for the program to show improvement. The Lady Wildcats aren’t satisfied with more baby steps, however.
“Our goal this year is to qualify for the state tournament. I understand we have to finish in the top four of our conference but I think our talent level will have us in the hunt for a spot,” said Easter. “A few keys to achieving this goal is getting better every time we touch the court, believing we can win and trusting the work they’ve put in this summer.”