New leadership, same goals for Lady Oilers

PEARLAND — Many questions have been directed at Pearland's new volleyball coach Christian Dunn, but the new leader is confident in his ability to assume command of one of the most respected volleyball programs in the Houston area.

Pearland was 29-12 overall last season and finished second in the District 23-6A standings at 10-2 with their only two losses coming at the hands of district champion Dawson.

The Lady Oilers opened up the playoffs with victories over Friendswood and Atascocita, but fell to fellow district foe George Ranch in the 6A regional quarterfinals.

For the first time since 1995, Pearland will have someone else in command of the Lady Oilers volleyball team after veteran coach John Turner announced his retirement from coaching.

Turner closed out his sparkling career with an 806-269 career mark while finishing as Pearland's all-time winningest coach with a 650-215 record. He recorded his 800th victory in his final season to make him one of the state's elite coaches.

"In my 32 years of coaching, I have been blessed to not have had a losing season and I attribute that to my players buying into my philosophy/work ethic that I instill in my program from day one when they commit," Turner said.

Turner will continue to teach for a few more years, but he won't be removed from the world of volleyball. Christian Dunn will take over the reigns of the Pearland program beginning next year.

Under Turner's leadership, the Houston Area Volleyball Coaches Association was organized four years ago and he was named the Executive Director of that organization which he will continue to lead.

He was also influential in getting the Texas Association of Volleyball Coaches organized this past year in which he will be the Executive Director of that organization so his plate will be full in the coming years.

But now it is coach Dunn's turn to establish his own coaching legacy and he is glad to have that opportunity at Pearland High School.

Dunn served as associate head coach with Turner last season so he is no stranger to assuming the reins of the program beginning in 2017.

"John established a great tradition and rich history for this program," Dunn said. "Being in the program last season as the associate head coach, I got to establish key components and start building a foundation for future success.

"Our guiding principles this season will be discipline, desire and determination. Doing the same thing over and over and doing it right is huge belief that I instill in my girls."

One thing that won't be lacking is experience for this year's team as Dunn will greet six talented starters.

The starters include senior Sarah Wright (outside hitter), junior Katie Whitehead (setter), senior Megan Keasler (DS/Libero), junior Sam Demmon (middle/right side), and sophomore April Conant (middle right side).

"Sarah Wright is a great jumper and hits a really heavy ball," Dunn said. "As she continues to work on her focus and becoming more consistent she will become more explosive and we will look to her to provide us with plenty of offense."

Dunn is also excited about what Bailey Graves, Sam Demmon and April Conant will bring to the team this season as they should be huge in the middle and right side. All of them are good size, can run a quick offense and are solid blockers.

"Katie Whitehead is back this season to lead the offense with a year under her belt running a 5-1 for us last season and I look for her to continue to make smart decisions and mix it up for us on the offensive end," Dunn said.

Dunn noted that Megan Keasler, Corine Stephens and Taylor Baccus have all been working tirelessly in the back row digging and running balls down during the off season. They will provide stability and much needed scrappiness in the back row in both serve receive and defense.

"Abi Watts, who will be a returning varsity player as a sophomore for us, also looks to help us diversify our offense in the setting category," Dunn said. "She had some injuries and setbacks last year but is healthy and ready to help us achieve our goals this season."

Other players that Dunn is anticipating being key for the team include Victoria Kenney and Morgan DeBorde who he says will be helping to diversify the offense and provide ever changing looks and lineups to keep the team fresh and make the opponents work harder.

Pearland is expected to advance to the post-season this year, but Dunn wants his girls to set their sights on a district title and a deep run after the regular seasons has concluded.

"I always believe that we will compete for the district title and this year is no different," Dunn said. "My expectation is for us to end up district champion's one match at a time.

"I believe coach Jason (Karam) at Dawson has nine girls back from a team that went deep in the playoffs last season, and now those girls have experience to go along with their firepower. George Ranch has added some firepower and made a deep run last year as well so we will see how that plays out."

Dunn closed out his remarks with, "I want the girls to go out every time they are on the court, not playing for themselves, but playing for the girls next to them. If we can manage all of those things it's going to be a great season."