DIBOLL — Diboll head volleyball coach Jeremy Stewart admits he’s somewhat of a “barker.” During practices or games, he watches the action unfold and steps in to bark instructions when he sees something in need of his attention.

Throughout the summer and the opening of this season, however, Stewart says he’s been strangely quiet.

That’s how good his team has looked so far.

“This is one of the most technically sound teams I’ve ever coached,” Stewart said during a recent practice. “Ball control is a big thing for us. These kids are skillful and technically sound, especially with their passing and defense. Things we haven’t been able to do in the pass as far as accuracy are things this team does very, very well.

“I find myself standing and watching,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing for me to say except, ‘Good job.’ I haven’t been able to coach like that in 16 years.”

The Ladyjacks in 2018 went 28-12 but suffered a “disappointing” early exit from the postseason. Stewart said his group took the season’s end to heart and committed to coming back even stronger in 2019.

The commitment made a showing in the season-opening tournament this past weekend in Woodville, where Diboll won the tourney by going 9-1 over three days. Ari Compean (Tournament MVP) and Helene Bolton (All-Tournament) racked up tournament honors.

The Ladyjacks will host Rusk tonight in the team’s home opener in Diboll, and fans will have the opportunity to meet the team Stewart thinks is capable of making a much deeper run come late fall.

The centerpieces will be Bolton, who was All-State Honorable Mention in 2018, and Compean, the District Co-Offensive Player of the Year. The libero will be Cristabel Ramos, and Kylie Rios returns as the “big hammer” after missing time in ’18 because of injuries. Compean will alternate as a setter and outside hitter, with Zayda Perez serving as the second setter.

Alyssa Garza and Mallorie Roman are expected to see time on the floor, as well.

Stewart also mentioned Maddi Horton as a crucial part of the team.

“Maddi’s one of those kids who does everything really well, even though she’s not flashy,” Stewart said. “She’s so fundamentally sound and extremely smart with everything she does. To be successful, you have to have a Madison Horton on your team.”

Stewart said the team’s focus on the season has been locked in since the end of 2018, and that the only “games” the players want right now are the ones with a net involved.

“When we were planning our Midnight Madness, I always do some crazy games or something more for entertainment,” Stewart said. “These kids wanted to forget those games and use the night for even more practice. They’re very serious about the game; they eat and breathe this stuff.

“I’m very excited about this team. The biggest thing is that they do everything together. They’re very, very close, and they’re all hard-working kids.”

The Ladyjacks will host Rusk tonight with the freshmen starting at 4:30 p.m. The junior varsity and varsity will follow.

Gary Stallard’s email address is garylstallard@yahoo.com.