PONDER — Each Monday when the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s volleyball poll is released, Ponder coach Stormi Snider and her team check to see if the Lady Lions are among the top 25 teams in Class 3A.
But unlike so many other schools that hope to see their name on the list, Ponder is the exact opposite.
The Lady Lions want to stay off the radar for as long as possible.
“Every week we look and cross our fingers that we aren’t [ranked],” Snider said after practice last Thursday. “I hope we can stay out of the rankings as long as possible.”
With a 29-12 overall record and a perfect 11-0 mark in District 9-3A, Ponder finally cracked the 3A rankings for the first time on Monday. The Lady Lions checked in tied for No. 25 with Edgewood and New Boston.
Snider wanted to keep her team under wraps for as long as possible, but the secret is clearly out.
Despite starting the season 0-4 and unranked, Ponder has rattled off 12 straight wins, including a sweep of Pottsboro on Tuesday night to clinch a share of the district title for the first time in school history. The Lady Lions also swept No. 16 Gunter on Oct. 1 and have only dropped one set in 9-3A play.
The rest of the state may not have known its name prior to Monday, but Ponder couldn’t care less.
“It would be the perfect Cinderella story, to be honest,” Snider said of her team’s potential. “Unless people really know us, they’re thinking we just snuck up and beat Gunter, since they’ve been ranked.”
At a school where basketball has traditionally reigned supreme, the Lady Lions have quickly emerged as one of the top small-school volleyball programs in the area.
But it has not always been that way.
When Snider took over as head coach in 2016, Ponder was eight years into its volleyball program that began in 2008. The Lady Lions had not experienced much success to that point and had yet to reach the playoffs.
That all changed when Snider took over.
“When I came here, the girls really got on board, and realized we could hang with the other teams in our district and that we are one of the top teams. They work hard,” Snider said. “I feel like I sometimes still have to remind them [how good they are], because Ponder basketball, that’s the highlight.”
In her first season at the helm in 2016, Snider guided the Lady Lions to a second-place finish in district, culminating with an appearance in the regional semifinal. Over the past four seasons under Snider, Ponder has gone 111-59, making the playoffs each year.
“She’s amazing,” junior Harper Mulkey said of Snider. “You don’t find that a lot, a coach who is so invested and puts all the time and effort that she does in. It’s crazy to have her here every step of the way.”
Ponder clinched at least a share of the district title on Tuesday and can win the crown outright on Friday night with a win over Gunter, the team that knocked the Lady Lions out of the playoffs last season.
“[There’s] unfinished business [with Gunter],” Mulkey said.
Mulkey, who is the Lady Lions’ kills leader with 369, is one of only four players on Ponder’s roster who is not a senior.
Sterling Wilkinson is among a host of seniors — seven, to be exact — who have helped Snider elevate Ponder’s program to where it is today.
“To see us grow and get better has been really exciting,” Wilkinson said. “All the seniors have played together since we were little. We all are very close. We all want to win for each other, so we play for each other.”
Coming into the season, Snider laid out three goals for her team: win a district title, win a regional title and advance to state.
Ponder has already accomplished the first goal, regardless of what happens Friday.
The Lady Lions’ next mission is to check off the final two items on Snider’s list.
“I can’t put into words how proud I am of them,” Snider said. “I don’t think they realize how good they are. They have just meshed so well as a team. It’s scary. As long as we take care of business and worry about ourselves, this could be a very special season.”