ANNA – Anna head coach Tomika Crosby and the Lady Coyotes aim to bounce back from last year’s 3-7, fifth-place finish in District 11-4A and return to the playoffs. Recall it was just two seasons ago that Anna was a district co-champion, dueling with vaunted Argyle for an area championship. The Lady Coyotes’ task at hand involves replenishing their ranks after losing seven seniors to graduation, including some big hitters. Gone are District Hitter of the Year Skylar Van Norman, First-Team All-District setter Grace Barnes, Avery Oonk, Savannah Kendall, Hailee Anderson, Baylee Janak and Sarah Scott.

“I knew coming into this season that everything was going to be new,” Crosby said on Saturday, Aug. 5, at Anna High School after two days of scrimmages on the road. “I knew there were going to be inexperienced athletes on the varsity level. Our strength last year was the fact that I had several hitters and I could pretty much go to anyone. We didn’t have just that one strong hitter that we had to send the ball to. Even though they didn’t have the confidence that I wish they would’ve had, we still had hitters. And that team had worked together for a couple of years so they kind of knew each other, knew how to work together.”

Key returning players for the Lady Coyotes include senior middle-hitter Taylor Medrick, a Second-Team All-District selection last year, big-hitting junior Hannah Howell and senior defensive specialist Micaela Cornelius.

“She’s a leader,” Crosby said of Medrick. “I didn’t see that in her before. She’s kind of taken on that role with this team. She has really stepped up, been more vocal at the net. Last year she was quiet and timid in the beginning. … Hannah Howell was a hitter last year but what I’ve seen her do these last two days was is far more than what she did last year. She’s stronger, more aggressive at the net. She takes chances.”

As for libero Cornelius, Crosby noted, “She’s been great at digging those big hits up in the past and we expect her to do the same thing this year.”

Crosby welcomes varsity newcomers Lexi Stewart, Rachel Goade, Bella Boyd, Alana Pina, Julianne Curiel and Haley Thornburg to the fold. All will need to contribute soon in order to fill the senior-exodus void.

Though this team is young, Crosby said they’re perhaps quicker than last year’s squad at picking up on some of the offensive sets and tactics.

“These girls are already ahead of the game,” Crosby said. “They’re already trying to run those offenses and, today in the scrimmages, I saw that they were able to do it. So I’m excited about that. And I think this year’s team is more knowledgeable in volleyball. There are more girls on this team that played club or played in some type of league before, on other teams with other girls. It’s surprising to me, but that was a pleasant surprise.”

“This is still going to be a tough district,” Crosby said of this year’s race with Celina, Melissa, Bonham, Princeton and Aubrey for four playoff spots. “They’re all going to be strong teams. With the team I have now, I expect us to finish at least in the top four. That’s our goal. But we know we can’t underestimate anyone. Every night it’s going to be a battle — and it’s not going to surprise me if most nights in district, we go to five (games).” She added, “We’re going to give some teams a run for their money. We’re going to surprise some people.”

What should Anna fans expect to see from these Lady Coyotes?

“This is going to be a fun, exciting group to watch, honestly,” Crosby said. “They get along well and they’ve been playing well together over the summer in a lot of the leagues. They try things — they try to run different little quicks and different sets — and they’re very encouraging to each other. You’ll see a lot of the high-5s - the teamwork, the coming together.”

Crosby said her girls were tested well over two days of scrimmaging multiple teams, first at Blue Ridge then at Pottsboro.

“We got to go against some really strong hitters so we were able to work on our blocks and see what our coverage was like,” Crosby said. “The girls were able to run our offenses and were very aggressive. Lexi Stewart and Rachel Goade were pleasant surprises. … Yesterday we struggled with communicating, reading the defense. Today, we did a better job at it but that’s still something we have to work on. Our defense has to be our strong point.”

Anna opens its season on Tuesday, Aug. 8, at home versus Pilot Point. Its district opener is Friday, Sept. 22, at home against Bonham.