By Rylan Stiles
The Cameron Aggies volleyball team is currently attempting to rebound from a 2-27 2021 season, and the task for coordinating that rebound falls upon Coach Brandon Stephenson’s shoulders, as he begins his fourth season at the helm of the Aggies.
The last time the Aggies cracked double-digit wins on the volleyball court was in 2015, when the team turned in a 17-10 record and going 7-9 in the Lone Star Conference (LSC).
That team reached the second round of the LSC post-season tournament – however, the team is three head coaches removed from the team that competed at the LSC, and has not reached the post-season since.
While last year’s two-win season was the second in two years, it certainly looked different than the first two-win season.
The team was more competitive on the floor – despite it not translating to wins – as they gained more continuity and chemistry with Stephenson’s system: an era that has had anything but consistency.
When Stephenson came to Lawton from Barton Community College, he was not at Cameron until July 2019, giving the team little time to prepare before turning in a six-win season.
The six-win season was a two game improvement on the 2018 year, and things were certainly trending upward, giving Stephenson his first successful spring season with the Aggies in Fall 2019.
The spring season is incredibly important in building a program, and the system of learning has to be simplified, Stephenson said.
“Rather than coming in and having to teach 15 new players your system, now you are looking at maybe five players you are having to get proved into what is going on,” Stephenson said. “and those returners are able to have one-on-one sessions with new players on how we do things and run our system.”
Many believed the team would take a step in 2020 – however – the COVID-19 pandemic forced student-athletes into isolation, and barred the team from practicing during much of the pandemic timeline.
The 2020 campaign was pushed back to the spring of 2021, causing volleyball student-athletes to play two seasons in the calendar year as the 2021 fall campaign returned as scheduled. Now, in 2022 the team is working hard on the practice floor to make up for lost time.
Stephenson said he is most excited to have players that see the vision he sees, as well as seeing the growth of the veteran players, and also that the team has more chemistry as a whole.
“Practices are fun, we want to continue that into the fall,” Stephenson said. “With us having additional time to work with them [new players] this year, I think that will be good for us.”
This will be a critical season for the Aggies, who have their sight set on the Lone Star Conference post-season tournament.
That is a feat they have not accomplished since 2015, and what would be a historic turnaround as a program on the heels of a two win season – though, there is reason to believe it is possible as the head ball coach points out the game is “slowing down” for the squad saying “they have a better understanding of what we need to do in practice, in games, and how to make adjustments” which will help win games and reach their goal of the post-season.
Stephenson said the number one reason to believe in the team the Fall season is because the players have their passion back after two seasons filled with obstacles.
One advantage the Aggies have is the Aggie Gym, despite the court having some entities not common on larger courts such as basketball hoops.
“With every gym there are issues you have to deal with, playing in a smaller gym like the Aggie gym it allows us to get our tempo better,” Stephenson said. “We have to know if a ball gets shanked a certain way [that] we cannot all flow to that direction, because it might hit a speaker… with our fans, it is special – the student body is right up against the railing, it has to be intimidating at times.”
Can the Aggies crack the top eight of the prestigious Lone Star Conference? That is yet to be seen, but between a new look offense that will feature more tempo, another solid recruiting class and more time to prepare than ever before, there are plenty of reasons for hope in the Stephenson era of Aggie Volleyball.