In any conversation with Maize South coach Teri Larson, you can count on her telling it like it is.
So when she said she was surprised with her team's 8-0 start, that's no gamesmanship. It's how she feels.
Larson knew her team was talented. Maize South finished 19-19 last season, played without any seniors and basically started from scratch.
They traveled around the state to play because they weren't in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division IV yet.
"I had a blast last year," Larson said. "The best thing I did in my career. It re-energized me. I had to teach fundamentals more than ever before. I had connections."
The Mavericks bonded, they learned, they got better through the season. And they returned every player from last season.
Still, beating Wichita Collegiate, the defending Class 3A champion, was surprising.
"I was hoping for this, but I wasn't for sure," Larson said. "We have a ways to go, but I'm very excited."
Maize South's top player is 6-foot sophomore Jody Larson, a setter/hitter with an outstanding all-around game.
"She's pretty special," Teri Larson said."... She's my kid, and I expect a lot out of her. She could hit the floor a little more."
Larson, who coached at Maize High before taking over at Maize South last fall, has coached all four of her daughters. Robyn, Kelly and Lindsey are also pushing their little sister.
"They want her to be better than them," Larson said.
But as good as Jody Larson is, Maize South needed more.
"We've worked a lot on team overall strength," Teri Larson said. "Last year when people watched us, they knew, 'we have to stop Jody Larson, and everybody else, don't worry about it.' Jody is still the key person, but ... I want them to be a team and not one person."
Other players have developed, too.
Junior Mackenzie Obermeyer, the Mavericks' leading blocker in 2009, is back at middle and is playing all the way around for the first time.
Libero McKenna Poynter, a sophomore, is strong defensively. She played with Jody Larson on the club volleyball team that took 15th in nationals.
Junior Hannah Jennings was an outside hitter in 2009, but is setting for the first time.
"I felt I needed to make a change there," Teri Larson said. "A junior, who has never set before, that's not easy. But she has good hands and she is smart."
Other key players include senior outside Allix Osman and freshman Kelsey Sterneker.
Big matchups — There's plenty of can't-miss matches this week.
On Tuesday, Kapaun Mount Carmel is at Bishop Carroll. Northwest is at North and Heights at East. These matches are important for North and East, who likely will battle to finish in the top four.
Valley Center is at Goddard on Tuesday, as well. Watch for Valley Center's Ashlyn Driskill and Goddard's Shelby Zoglman, both top hitters.
On Thursday night, Northwest plays at Heights. Heights opened the season with a loss at Bishop Carroll and needs a win against the Grizzlies. That won't be easy. Northwest is not only talented, it's experience.
The Valley Center tournament is Saturday. The Hornets will host Andover, Bishop Carroll, Campus, Garden City, Goddard, Girard, Kapaun Mount Carmel, Rose Hill, Salina Central, East and North.