BULLARD -- Football wasn't the only sport to start two-a-day practices Monday across the state.

Volleyball teams hit the court in preparation for the 2013 season, which for them starts next week.

Head coach Ben Belshaw was optimistic Monday afternoon about his second year at Bullard, where he arrived after coaching Nacogdoches. The Lady Panthers were 16-20 in 2012, and Belshaw believes they're on the right track.

"The energy level is good right now. We've got a lot of people that are excited about what we're doing. We've got a good group coming back so I feel like the ones that are returning are ready to go," Belshaw said. "We've got 23 freshmen coming in, so that's kinda nice when you've got a big group of freshmen like that. We were a little more out of shape this morning during conditioning than I was hoping, so I think we took a little bit of time off. But I know several of the ones, especially that I'm looking at for varsity, played club during the summer and spring, so we did some good things in the offseason and I'm looking forward to building on that and seeing how that pans out as we put that together."

Belshaw expects junior outside hitter Mackenzie Fish to be one of the Lady Panthers' top playmakers after earning District 16-3A Newcomer of the Year honors as a sophomore. A trio of seniors -- libero Madison Hodges, setter Mallory McCoy, and middle blocker Ashley Searcy -- should also be key contributors.

West Rusk hosts Bullard in a 10 a.m. Friday scrimmage before the Lady Panthers host Tyler Lee and John Tyler at 9 a.m. Saturday. Bullard starts the season with a 4:30 p.m. Tuesday tri-match at Jacksonville against the Maidens and Bullard Brook Hill.

After that, three tournaments and four single matches stand between Bullard and the District 16-3A opener Sept. 13 at home against defending league champion Spring Hill. Since the UIL expanded the Class 3A playoffs, four teams from each district will qualify for postseason, which should add intrigue to battle for playoff berths.

"I think (the district race) will be pretty competitive again," Belshaw said. "Kilgore, Gilmer, Henderson, Spring Hill, there's some solid teams out there. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out."

Mallory McCoy (left) and Ashley Searcy go up for a block during Bullard's Monday afternoon practice. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)