JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — Marble Falls High School head volleyball coach Jessica Withrow wants her players to know they can make a big difference in their community that goes beyond what they accomplish on the court.
The first-year Lady Mustangs coach has asked the athletes to visit retirement homes and organized activities designed to emphasize service. That, in turn, has given the program a greater feeling of family.
“We’re trying to really instill that it’s one big program, that we all love and care about each other,” Withrow said. “That brings in our school vision, which is to love everybody with an unyielding commitment, to strive and achieve to make them reach their fullest potential.”
The Lady Mustangs visited Granite Mesa Health Center on Sept. 3 and shared homemade cookies with the residents.
“The people there loved seeing the girls,” Withrow said. “The girls wanted to give back and volunteer some time to make a difference.”
And it’s not just serving the community. The Lady Mustangs also take the time to pick up trash in the gymnasiums they play in, on their travel buses and in their locker rooms.
The custodians and drivers have told the coach that words can’t express what it means to them because it shows the players value them; those gestures symbolize they’re all part of the program.
“It means a lot to them,” Withrow said. “It saves them so much time.”
The coach has also visited the home of each varsity player with the aim of getting to know them beyond the school day. The visits also give parents a chance to get to know an individual who spends a lot of time with their daughters.
“The purpose for me is to get to know my athletes outside of volleyball,” Withrow said. “I want to know how close they are to their family, what their interests are besides volleyball, so I can support them and know if they have any prayer requests, I’m here for them.”
The visits also illustrate an important bond between player and coach, she added.
“You have to get to know your kids on a deeper level if you want them to give their absolute best in every aspect,” she said. “If they see you care about them, they’re going to care about you in return.”
Junior defensive specialist Haleigh Hughes said she enjoyed having the coach visit her at her home.
“It was different, very different,” she said. “I’m not used to that as a player. Her coming out and starting this whole new thing was a bit of a shock.”
Withrow is the third head volleyball coach Hughes has played for in as many years. So the visit reinforced a belief the player has in the coach – that she plans on being here long term.
That feeling started during a drill at practice weeks ago. The shuttle passing drill forces players to perform 20 passes, 20 sets, 20 jump sets and 20 pepper passes each in a row to end it. Each player is required to take a turn performing each task.
“It took us 90 minutes to get it down,” the player said. “She didn’t let us stop until we got it down. That’s when I knew she wasn’t going anywhere.”
Withrow admitted to fighting through fatigue since the visits happened after practices but emphasized they were worth it.
“They seem so excited I’m there,” she said. “And I’m excited. It’s a cool opportunity for me to just see their room and see where they go every night and just relax and see them on a more personal level. It shows them I really do care about them.”
But it hasn’t been all service. The team traveled to Austin to watch the University of Texas volleyball team, ranked No. 2 nationally, take on Miami on Sept. 3.
For the coach and players, it was another opportunity to build the rapport and strengthen the bonds.
Marble Falls Independent School District has a mission statement that reads: “Marble Falls ISD has an unyielding commitment to love every child and inspire them to achieve their fullest potential.”
Withrow believes what the Lady Mustangs are doing now embodies that vision.
“That’s what we’re doing here in athletics to show them that we love and care about them,” she said. “I want to get to know each and every one of my players. … I want them to have a serving heart. I think it’s important for the girls to see it’s not all about them.”