Seeking perfection can be a double-edged sword.
Starla Jones, the head coach of Aldine Davis volleyball, must remind incoming junior Kiyah Felder at times that it's okay to not be perfect all the time. But the drive and determination to reach the pinnacle of her sport is something she admires.
"She works hard," Jones said. "She wants to be perfect, which sometimes can be a problem because nobody's perfect. But she's never satisfied. She always wants to be better. That's special in a player."
Felder is coming off a sophomore season where she opened eyes.
By the end of the year, Felder was named the District Newcomer of the Year. She lead Aldine Davis to a second-place tie with MacArthur in District 16-6A and a subsequent playoff berth. Felder finished with a team-leading 293 kills.
"It was exciting," Felder said about getting the award. "I feel like I worked for it."
At Plummer Middle School, Felder played basketball, volleyball and ran track. The junior's first taste of volleyball came in the sixth grade during a PE class.
Then in the seventh grade, she made the team. It was at that time that Felder decided to focus solely on volleyball and walk away from the other two sports.
Along with playing at Aldine Davis, Felder spends her offseason playing for the Texas Twisters in Katy, which has allowed her to expand her ability to play multiple spots on the court.
"It's helped a lot," Felder said about playing club. "At school I've only played outside or sometimes in the middle. Club helped me [play a lot more positions] than I'm used to."
Playing at a high level as a sophomore, Jones said she would work hard on her own game but sometimes wouldn't push others to do the same. That push from the now-junior is what Jones expects in 2019.
"Coming in as a sophomore, she really didn't lead but I'm expecting more of that this year," Jones said. "As a junior and a year under her belt, she's feeling more confident in herself."
Heading into her junior year, the talk of college volleyball has ramped up. Felder is starting the process of looking at colleges and getting her highlight reel in front of coaches across the country.
Playing college volleyball is a goal of Felder's, in big part because of her mom.
"It will make my mom happy because she thinks I can go all the way if I really tried," Felder said. "My mom is my motivation. She's put a lot of money into this and she played volleyball when she was my age too. So, I feel like I can go really far with that."
After winning the Newcomer of the Year Award a year ago, the sights for Felder are again set on another award.
Of course, the same accolade won't be available for her to win, but there is the overall District 16-6A MVP up for grabs.
"I feel like if I work hard enough, that's something I'll be able to achieve," Felder said.
On paper, Aldine Davis should be the best returning Aldine ISD volleyball squad for the 2019 campaign.
But that's just on paper.
Starla Jones, the reigning District 16-6A Coach of the Year, has been persistent this offseason in reminding her team that the successes of last year are just that. They are last season's, which doesn't entitle her group to that same success in 2019.
"I think it's going to give them some confidence that they have a year under their belt," Jones said. "But it's a new season, a new team. Last year is last year. I'm reminding them that we've got to start all over. It's going to take some work like it did before.
"We can't settle, and we can't expect to be at the top just because we were last year."
Last season, Aldine Davis went 20- 26-1 overall and 10-4 in District 16-6A play to finish in a tie for second place with MacArthur.
"I've told them, you do realize because you were up there you are definitely one of the teams to beat," Jones said. "Everybody's going to be pumped. I don't care what team it is. They're going to be ready to play you."
Returning to the court for the Falcons this season is District 16-6A Newcomer of the Year Kiyah Felder, first-team selections Ashlyn Laymond and Tavia Harrell and second-teamer Hailey Harris. Also returning is Lyric Carwell, who was an honorable mention.
What excites Jones the most about this group is that this summer the girls put in the needed work to get better in the weight room.
"I'm really excited that we had a good group of girls coming all summer working on strength and conditioning. We've struggled
with that in the past," Jones said. "We've had a really good-size group, including incoming freshmen coming in. So, I know they're going to be stronger."
When many think of strength and conditioning summer camps, football is the sport that comes to mind – not volleyball.
But that ability to hang on and fight through a five-set battle is key, which is where this summer work will pay off the most.
"It's extremely important for us to get stronger and in better shape," Jones said. "I've always told them, you don't want to get beat because the other team is in better shape than you."
Entering her fifth season at the helm, Jones sees that her program has fully taken hold at Aldine Davis.
"When they come in to work, they know they will work," Jones said. "There are no days off because other teams are getting better at the same time."
Those teams in District 16-6A have been working all summer and Jones continues to convey to her team that opposing squads are coming for them as they are "a team to beat".
At the end of the day, Jones just wants to see her team exceed their own expectations.
"I want to see that they're not going to settle," Jones said. "That they're going to go for it, that they're going to make the sacrifices and come together as a team. A lot of times their expectations tend to be lower than mine. I want them to see that they can exceed those things."
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