Friday marks the beginning of the District 9-6A volleyball schedule, with seven teams taking aim at four playoff spots and looking to build off a year that saw three squads advance at least three rounds in the postseason, two at least five rounds and one to the state semifinals.
The lattermost distinction belonged to Plano West, which enters 9-6A play entrenched among the top programs in the state, while Prosper and McKinney Boyd have also generated their share of preseason attention.
How one of the state’s premier volleyball districts plays out will be determined in the coming weeks, and beforehand, the Star Local Media sports staff collaborated to take a crack at projecting 9-6A’s final standings when all is said and done.
1. Plano West
Taylor Raglin: The Lady Wolves, currently No. 6 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association rankings, have spent the entire preseason within the top 10 of the weekly poll. It’s for good reason – a year after being eliminated in the state semifinal, the club got even better, carrying over seniors in DePaul commit Jill Pressly and UCLA commit Iman Ndiaye on the outside, adding Miami commit Noelle Piatas to that stable of outside hitters by way of transfer and throwing in impactful setters in junior Ashley Le, a Virginia commit, and senior and Duke commit Sydney Yap for good measure.
The rest of the roster is potentially just as talented, and wins over Hebron, Flower Mound and Southlake Carroll have highlighted the Lady Wolves’ 2019 schedule, thus far, and two of the program’s four losses have come to fellow elites The Woodlands and Byron Nelson.
While Prosper should certainly be competitive with the team on the West side, it’s difficult to pick against the stacked Lady Wolves in league play.
Bryan Murphy: Prosper is currently ranked as the No. 12 team in all of Class 6A despite having lost seven games already in non-district action.
That is mainly due to the fact that the Lady Eagles have endured a brutal non-district slate and have faced off against other state-ranked foes in Denton Guyer, Frisco Liberty, Leander Rouse, Flower Mound, Byron Nelson and Lovejoy.
Despite the losses, Prosper has remained highly competitive in those matchups and appears to be a better team because of it. However, the Lady Eagles will need to get healthy for the start of district play, as three starters (junior right side Bailey Birmingham, sophomore setter Jazzlyn Ford and junior outside hitter Sami Jacobs) are all battling injuries.
Even without those three players at full strength, the Lady Eagles remain one of the favorites to earn a spot in the playoffs at season’s end.
3. McKinney Boyd
Kendrick E. Johnson: Despite sporting a nice record, Boyd has been inconsistent and hard to gauge from match to match.
So far this season, the Lady Broncos have won the Allen Texas Open and beaten state-ranked teams The Woodlands, Southlake Carroll and Bishop Lynch, but have also lost in straight sets to heavyweight teams like defending 6A state champion Flower Mound, Lovejoy and Denton Guyer.
Boyd has the talent to do some damage in 9-6A play but must find a way to be more consistent if they plan on ending the program’s current two-year playoff drought.
Matt Welch: It sounds hard to believe, but the Lady Eagles haven’t won a district match since Oct. 20, 2017. But following a winless 9-6A campaign last fall, Allen is primed for a bounce-back run in district thanks to a wealth of experience from last year’s injury-marred season.
Although Allen’s defense took a hit with the transfer of libero Callie Kemohah, sophomore Emily Canaan has shown plenty of promise. Offensively, head coach Kelley Gregoriew has lauded her club’s depth, with players like juniors Adriana Fucsko and Maya Detwiler among the emerging contributors.
Allen also has momentum on its side heading into district play, riding a seven-match winning streak that includes a 3-1 victory over Hebron.
One year older and one year wiser, the Lady Eagles figure to have a far greater say in the playoff equation this season.
5. Plano Senior
Matt Welch: There might not be a team in 9-6A that underwent a greater identity shift since last season than the Lady Wildcats. With the tried-and-true hitter-setter duo of Julia Adams and Faith Panhans graduated, and the team’s tallest returner, senior Sophie Robinson, lost to a knee injury, Plano has had to retool around first-year head coach Kaylin Kelley without the size it has enjoyed in years past.
That has placed a great emphasis on creating offensive chances through the defense, anchored in the back by sophomore Naylani Feliciano. Sophomore Brooke McHale is a sure bet to lead the Lady Wildcats in kills on most nights, but they’ve shown a willingness to spread the ball around — a departure from the Adams-centric offense of the past couple years.
Time will tell if it’s enough to extend the program’s playoff streak to eight consecutive years, but the talent of 9-6A could ultimately prove too much.
Kendrick E. Johnson: After starting off the season 1-4, the Lionettes have turned things around and currently find themselves on a five-game winning streak that includes wins over perennial playoff teams Rockwall-Heath and state ranked Denton Guyer.
Just like last year, when it shocked a lot of teams on their way to reaching the regional quarterfinal round, McKinney will be a strong dark horse in the 9-6A playoff race. Expect the Lionettes to continue riding the backs of D'erricka Frierson, Jenna Ross and Emily Phillips, who have played outstanding all season long.
7. Plano East
Taylor Raglin: It’s been largely rough going for the Lady Panthers in the first season under head coach Cathy Manderson, though it was somewhat to be expected with the regime change combining with the loss of a big group of starters, including libero Jenna Deggs and fellow alums Nicole Anspach, Nicole Anderson and Danielle Dion, among others.
That isn’t to say there isn’t any talent left on the East side – junior Natalie Anspach is back in the fold, as is senior Lillie Scantlan and sophomore Ella Yarborough.
It hasn’t translated to many positive results, however, as the Lady Panthers have fallen in preseason action to the likes of Frisco Wakeland, Lovejoy, McKinney Boyd, Hebron and Frisco Lebanon Trail. While that’s a laundry list of competitive teams in the area, the District 9-6A slate offers the Lady Panthers no respite, and it could be a slog for the program under the weight of some powerhouses at the top and some other postseason bubble programs.