Last season was a major rebuilding year for the Lake Highlands volleyball team under first-year coach Tracy Hurst. The young squad finished under .500, but started three sophomores, Mandy Pinkerton, Stacy Allen and Laura McClendon.

So it’s the junior class that has Hurst expecting major improvement this season. Besides Pinkerton, Allen and McClendon, about 20 other juniors are expected to compete for the varsity squad.

This year’s team will have height, experience and a dedication to the sport that could easily lead them into contention for one of the three District 11-5A playoff spots.

Pinkerton (5-9) is an offensive force as a hitter. She will team with Allen (5-9) to give the Wildcats formidable bookends up front.

Combine this talent with 6-0 transfer Tamara Shulman, and it’s easy to justify Hurst’s preseason confidence. Nine of the girls expected to make the varsity roster have club experience that promises to pay dividends.

Junior defensive wizard Liz Preskitt (5-7) will be counted on for strong defense and passing ability. Hurst calls McClendon, also an accomplished soccer player, her most versatile player.

“Laura can play anywhere on the court,” Hurst says.

The junior class is so talented that the Wildcats could field an all-junior starting lineup, although seniors Meredith Cate and Kelly Kruyschoop, and high-jumping sophomore Erin Aldrich also will compete for playing time. Juniors Shannon Brooks and Lacy Lemond also are likely to be part of the mix.

“We should be much stronger this season,” Pinkerton says. “We’ll have a lot more experience, everyone is so versatile, and we’re much taller now. Tamara is a big addition to our team, and we won’t have to adjust to a new coach again this season.”

Pearce, last year’s district champion, is rebuilding this season, but traditional powers such as Berkner and Plano should be tough once again.

Still, Hurst likes what she has seen so far as the Wildcats prepare for their season-opener in late August.

“These girls are first class,” says Hurst, who still plays competitively.

“They’re very dedicated, very talented and good students. Keep an eye on us this year, and just wait until 1994.”