Don Ogden knew last year his Tahlequah volleyball team would be stacking building blocks and assembling for the future.
Rebuild mode is a thing of the past.
Now, it's time for the Lady Tigers to compete.
Ogden's team is coming off a 7-18 season, but lacked experience across the board and had just one senior in Jaden Teague.
Although it will still be young in 2019, Tahlequah returns a flock of experience that a year ago were learning the ropes and tightening up the fundamentals.
"Last year was an interesting year because we knew going in we had graduated so heavy," Ogden said. "We were young and inexperienced and we knew we were going to have some growing pains. We were well aware of that."
The Lady Tigers showed progress and promise as last season went along. They even upset higher seed El Reno to being postseason play in a Class 5A Regional at Coweta.
"We feel like as we went through the season the games that we started playing became closer," Ogden said. "We started positioning ourselves in a lot better place to be able to understand how to win. We played probably our best game of the year in the first round of regionals when we beat El Reno."
Ogden wanted his players to extend last year's progression into something more.
"We felt pretty good where we were at the conclusion and then we challenged them all to try and play some club ball," he said. "We needed to stay actively engaged in another sport to develop athleticism, anything to stay active."
There will also be a philosophy change this year.
"We have started out in a different system," Ogden said. "We switched systems from last year's 5-1 where Lydia McAlvain was our primary setter. We're going to go ahead and try our 6-2 at the beginning. We're going to move Natalee Porter from strictly the outside hitter to our second setter. Lydia and Natalee will both hit on the front row and they will both set from the back row. We're going to run a different system to try to get a combination of our six most effective players."
McAlvain, who received valuable time as a freshman in 2018, led the Lady Tigers with 472 assists and also contributed with 158 digs as well as 270 serves made. Porter, a junior, was second in kills (88) and had team highs in both serves made (346) and serve aces (43).
Kloe Bowin and Ella Scearce are the centerpieces to start with in 2019. They're the lone seniors and will look to provide leadership.
Bowin, who Ogden feels has a chance to be one of the top all-around athletes to come through the program, was responsible for 279 points as a junior. Also a basketball and track standout, Bowin led the team in kills (225), hit percentage (.147) and blocks (22). She was was among team leaders in digs (169), serves made (261) and serve aces (30).
"We're all comfortable playing with each other now because of last year," Bowin said. "We sacrificed a season to rebuild. Last year wasn't very good, but now we have a whole year under our belt where we can now focus on more aspects of the game. I'm ready for this year."
Scearce recorded 50 kills last season.
"We definitely have better passers this year," Scearce said. "We had a club team this year and I think four or five of our girls were on it so that definitely put us at a different level as in volleyball knowledge. That really helped us get better."
Ogden will use sophomores McKinley Thompson and Lola Brownfield, along with junior Morgan Pack, as his primary passers and defensive specialists.
Junior Josie Foster and sophomore Faith Springwater also return with experience. Foster led Tahlequah with 249 digs in 2018.
The Lady Tigers open their season on Aug. 22 with a trip to Collinsville.