Throughout the 2020 season, as many as three of District 5-6A’s seven volleyball teams were ranked among the state’s top 20 teams in Class 6A.
That caliber of talent bore itself out across a schedule that was dealt its share of ups and downs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but one that ultimately crowned a champion and advanced two teams at least three rounds deep in the playoffs.
All roads ran through Prosper, which posted an 11-1 conference record to outlast game efforts from second-place Denton Guyer and third-place McKinney Boyd to win the 5-6A championship. The Lady Eagles parlayed that into a run to the regional quarterfinals, while Guyer played on to the regional semifinals.
Student-athletes from those programs, as well as the rest of 5-6A, were recently recognized for their efforts as part of the league’s annual all-district team — an assemblage of some of the top volleyball players in the state and others who impacted their programs both on and off the court.
District champion Prosper had a healthy representation on the list, including four different superlative awards. At the top of that group was senior Bailey Birmingham, who anchored the Lady Eagles’ offense from the right side on her way to district MVP honors. The Tulsa commit tallied 202 kills and 30 blocks on a kill percentage of 50%.
“Bailey is a two-year starter for us. He’s a lefty on the right side. She touches 10-5 and is just an amazingly gifted athlete who’s just beautiful to watch play,” said Erin Kauffman, Prosper head coach. “This year, I thought she really fine-tuned her skill, so she’s not just an athlete anymore. She’s able to manipulate the ball and hit a ton of different shots.
“I had numerous coaches tell me after a match that she was unstoppable. She was such an offensive force for us and really turned a corner.”
The intangible qualities that Birmingham brought to the front row were akin to the contributions fellow senior Nikki Steinheiser instilled in Prosper’s back row. With 84 kills, 14 blocks and 231 digs, Steinheiser split the ballot for the district’s defensive player of the year award.
“She makes some amazing saves, but what she has done this year is fine-tune her athleticism in the back row and she’s become a six-rotation, ball-control specialist,” Kauffman said. “She’s extremely competitive, which is what we needed to back there. She was really good at reading back row and was a huge reason why we won district.”
Steinheiser split the award with Allen junior Emily Canaan, who’s committed to play at Florida. One of the top liberos in the state, Canaan was on her game once again as a junior — digging 332 balls and chipping in 19 aces for a Lady Eagle team that finished fourth overall in the district.
Prosper also accounted for the district’s newcomer of the year, with sophomore Callie Kieffer recognized. Kieffer split setter duties with junior Jazzlyn Ford, finishing just six assists shy of the team lead after totaling 439 on the season. She added 19 aces and 112 digs.
“Callie is a competitor who has all the intangibles,” Kauffman said. “I’ve seen her play since third grade when she started coming to our camps and I always knew she had the mindset to be a really good court leader and setter. She’s willing to take chances on the court and really reminds me a lot of myself when I played.”
Kauffman, meanwhile, was named the district’s coach of the year following a season where she had to replace her varsity assistant, junior varsity coach and one of her freshman coaches.
“Our staff just gets along really well. We hold each other accountable and I think part of that success has been hiring people who have different strengths than me and sitting down and listening to what they have to say instead of me just calling all the shots,” Kauffman said. “Even though it says my name as coach of the year, it was really an award for the whole staff.”
McKinney Boyd worked its way onto the all-district superlatives following a third-place finish. A big reason for that was the play of junior Hannah Billeter, who earned offensive player of the year. Billeter paced the Lady Broncos with 276 kills, 224 digs and 12 blocks. Head coach JJ Castillo lauded her star hitter’s ball control, tallying a 2.25 passing clip on 394 attempts.
Additional superlatives were awarded to Denton Guyer, which rostered the district’s blocker of the year (Jordyn Williams) and setter of the year (Brooke Slusser).
Whereas 5-6A recognized a handful of student-athletes on the all-district first and second teams, an idea from Denton Braswell head coach Corey Jenkins sparked the invention of the district’s community outreach team — an accolade for one player from each program who made significant contributions off the court. Student-athletes named to 5-6A’s community outreach team were Prosper senior Rachel Ward, Allen junior Emma Vu, Little Elm senior Yaiza Larrauri, McKinney senior Aubrey Koch, McKinney Boyd junior Kenzie Parrish, Guyer senior Abigail Cox and Braswell senior Macie Jenkins.
First-team selections from 5-6A included Prosper seniors Taylor Youtsey, Sami Jacobs and juniors Kendall Hewitt and Ford; Boyd junior Avery Calame and seniors Rylee Halford and Peyton Smith; Allen seniors Chloe Thomas and Maddie Wendland; and McKinney sophomore Ashlynn Oliver and senior Annabel Kilroy.
Second-teamers included Little Elm senior Brooke Russell, Prosper sophomores Ella Chaney and Brie Martin plus senior Riley Price; Boyd sophomore Camryn Weldon and seniors Morgan Milstead and Emily Ludtka; Allen juniors Divine Muo, Leah Reeves and senior Maya Detwiler; and McKinney senior Elizabeth Wilzbach and sophomore Sydnee Griffin.