Jenifer Ball took the Marana Tigers volleyball program from the doldrums of the state to the center of state title consideration in three seasons.
Ball, who inherited a Tigers program fresh off a 1-21 campaign when she took the job in 2016, has since transformed the program.
Thanks to her steadfast leadership, Marana has posted back-to-back winning seasons, including a 20-10 mark in 2018.
That run, which came to a close in a straight-sets loss to Sunnyslope of Phoenix in the 5A opening round, is merely a prelude to what could be a special season for the team this fall.
Ball is high on this year’s squad, with nine seniors returning from last year’s team, including Grace Ehler, who led the team in kills (264) a season ago.
Ehler and fellow front line member Ella Dotson, who compiled 235 kills of her own in 2018, anchor what should be a ferocious attack for Ball’s team this season.
Ball is ready to see what this year’s roster can accomplish. Tigers kicked off their season Sept. 3 against Cholla High School, after deadline
“We have a really mature seasoned group,” Ball said. “Our expectations are to do well, to play as a team, to be great leaders, and to just really execute what we’ve been teaching the last couple of years.”
Ball knows that a team’s on-court success depends upon a tight bond off of it, which is why she’s confident that this year’s roster can achieve great things.
The fourth-year coach expects her players to bring everything they have in each of their matches this fall, challenging longtime rival Ironwood Ridge for a section title in the 5A Southern region.
“I think they really are coming together and really figuring out how to, say, overcome challenges,” Ball said. “The little things that maybe disrupted us in the past, we’re able to get over now. And so that’s always a great thing to see as a coach, to see those challenges happen on the floor. And I don’t have to call a timeout because they work it out themselves.”
Ehler echoed her coach’s sentiments on the team’s camaraderie and expectations entering the regular season.
Ehler believes Ball and her staff have done a good job fostering a positive environment where players of all ages can learn the ropes and find success.
“We’ve built a very hardworking and competitive culture here and obviously the program has come so far,” she said. “Coach obviously helps a lot with that. The girls, we just, we worked so hard and we have a goal and we’re working hard to achieve it.”
The Tigers will have their work cut out for them from the get-go this season, with non-region matches against Flowing Wells, Salpointe Catholic and Sabino at home, with road matches against Mountain View and Pueblo to boot.
Ball believes her players are ready to embrace the challenge that awaits them, jumping at the opportunity to play the best competition in the state from the get-go.
“I think we’re ready to do some really, really great things this year,” Ball said. “And, it’s because these girls have bought in to the system and bought into the hard work. The credit goes to them and to what they’ve been willing to do to work these last several years.”
Dotson knows how far the program has come under Ball’s leadership, with the team’s disastrous 2015 campaign in the rearview.
The rising senior outside hitter, like her teammates, has come to terms with going from after-thought to contender, and the expectations that come with it.
Dotson said the team’s mindset entering the season is to stay humble and focused, so they can compete in a stacked 5A Southern region.
“I feel like it’s so competitive. Our programs come so far and years ago nobody would’ve thought that we’d be competing with such high-level teams,” Dotson said. “Now, we’re right there with all those high-level teams and really building a name for ourselves.”
It’s been 10 months since the Tigers’ 2018 season came to an end in Phoenix, and Ball is chomping at the bit to pick up where the team left off.
It’s been a long offseason for players and coaches alike, but Ball is eager to see what her players can accomplish this season.
“We’re just excited for the season to start; we’re ready,” Ball said. “We really want to see this group of girls achieve some of the things that we’ve been talking about the last couple of years. And we’re getting to work to try to do just that.”