This week marks the beginning of the 2019 volleyball season, with teams having completed tryouts and preparing for the first round of preseason tournaments.
As teams tinker with lineups, break in new starters and reignite chemistry from last season, the early weeks of volleyball season are rife with compelling storylines around the area. That includes teams throughout Denton County, and here’s an early look at where those respective programs are at heading into the first week of the season.
Matt Welch: For a team that enjoyed the highest of highs last fall in capturing their first-ever state championship, the Lady Jaguars left that memory in 2018, according to head coach Jamie Siegel. Entering her second year at the helm, Siegel said her players have wiped the slate clean as they look to again scale the Class 6A mountaintop and are approaching the preseason no different than last year.
Flower Mound has plenty of championship experience back in tow, including state tournament MVP and junior Kaylee Cox, 9-6A Defensive Player of the Year and senior Sarah Martinez and all-district first-teamer and junior Angelique Cyr, and Siegel said maintaining work ethic and avoiding complacency will be the biggest things to monitor for her core returners.
Although Cox and Cyr finished last season as Flower Mound’s top two hitters, graduation left a few holes to address early in the season, chiefly in the middle with Abby Butler graduated, on the outside where Emily Merrick formerly resided and at setter where Reagan Hooper split duties last season.
Flower Mound does have junior Caroline Dykes back as the other half of last year’s setter duo, but Siegel didn’t rule out again mixing up the rotation at setter — one of several things the coach plans on experimenting with to find the right mix during non-district play.
Taylor Raglin: The key question for the Lady Marauders is one of momentum – while the program made the postseason last fall for the first time since 2013 and gave state power Byron Nelson a good showing in a bi-district loss, it’s going to be an uphill battle to maintain that forward progress moving into 2019.
The school lost double-digit seniors to graduation, a large number for a volleyball club looking to keep punching tickets to the postseason in a stacked District 6-6A. However, there are bright spots coming back around for one final run – seniors Camryn Upshaw and Maddie Meiner, who each had 10 kills against Byron Nelson, and sophomore Maggie Boyd, who had seven in the first-round loss, will all be back on the court, among other returners.
Facing down a league that includes perennial power Hebron and 2018 state champion Flower Mound will never be an easy task, though the Lady Marauders could enjoy another trip to the tournament if they can build off of their 2018 success and leverage that returning talent.
Kevin Reynolds: The Cowgirls have been riding a wave of success in recent years, posting ridiculous win totals in their 2017 and 2018 campaigns. Coming off a 12-win district run last year, Coppell was disappointed to be ousted from the playoffs before the first weekend was through. Now, with nine players returning from the past year, Coppell will be looking to make a deeper run in the postseason.
The Cowgirls will almost certainly gain their strength from their senior and junior leaders as the early season gets underway, which starts with Bishop Lynch at home. Although the program lost district MVP Stella Yan, as well as Pierce Woodall and Amarachi Osuji to graduation, this Coppell team will not be completely unrecognizable from last year.
Fans and opposing coaches will certainly remember Madison Gilliland as she heads into her junior year. Peyton Minyard and Brynna George are also two players that will likely take the mantle in their last run through the district. A bright spot that cannot be overlooked is incoming sophomore Haley Holz, who received limited minutes in 2018.
Matt Welch: The Lady Farmers are under new leadership leading into the 2019 season, albeit with a familiar face after former assistant Cara Sumpter was promoted to head coach following Libby Rodriguez’s move to McKinney North.
Under Sumpter, Lewisville aims to snap a playoff drought that dates back to 1997 — no small task given the caliber of talent in the top echelon of 6-6A — but Sumpter does have a returning core of two all-district players to help steer her first season as the Lady Farmers’ head coach. Senior Emerson Coburn gives Lewisville experience on offense, where she’ll look to build a steady connection with up-and-coming sophomore setter Mataya Perry, while senior Dawt Mawi earned honorable mention commendation at defensive specialist for the Lady Farmers last season.
Although Lewisville lost just five players to graduation, that departed cast includes alums Isis Williams and Christina Cowsert — multi-year all-district performers who doubled as Lewisville’s two best options for size at the net.
Time will tell how Sumpter and Co. recalibrate the Lady Farmers’ identity without the program’s tried-and-true middle-hitting duo.
Kevin Reynolds: The Hawks are “#underconstruction” this season. In a motto that has been embraced throughout head coach Karin Keeney’s program, Hebron is looking to redeem a first-round exit from the playoffs one year ago. After turning in yet another double-digit win total in district last season, Hebron suffered a loss in the first round for the first time in Kenney’s tenure.
“The road to success is under construction. We were young last year but we come in with more experience this season. It will be one more year of maturity. I am pretty pumped by how much energy there is on the court this week,” Keeney said.
As to be expected for a program that won three consecutive state titles before 2018, Hebron’s roster displays a bevy of firepower. Nnedi Okammor, the University of Florida commit, comes into her senior season fresh off of winning a national tournament with her club team. Her sister, Lia Okammor, will also be on the roster as a returning starter as just a sophomore.
Just about every position will be held by a tenured veteran. Harmony Sample and Isabella Ousby will be back in the royal blue and silver as leaders making an impact.
Kevin Reynolds: There is no doubt the Lady Cougars would like the 2019 campaign to be a bounce-back year for their volleyball program. After just missing the playoffs last year, finishing fifth in district play, The Colony will be looking to emphasize experience in its early-season tilts. Head coach Terri Herrod is optimistic of her battle-tested roster this year, noting their strong performance at college team camp just last week.
“At college team camp this past weekend, we saw our girls get a lot of good touches and I will be looking for a more experienced roster. We want to be a controlled, offensive team,” Herrod said.
For Herrod, the longtime head coach is no stranger to success and has a knack for getting things back on track. Team captain Jayda Coleman, the softball and volleyball standout, will be returning for her senior year. Fellow seniors Ashley Procious and Yazmyn Walker, first- and second-team all-district selections last year, respectively, will also be leaders on this squad going forward.
Taylor Raglin: One of many area teams breaking in a new head coach, the Lady Falcons will be under the direction of Kristinn Holbrooks for the first time in 2019. Though the transition to a new leader at the helm is typically the largest storyline heading into a first go-around under that new figure, the Lady Falcons’ season will come down to more than just Holbrooks’ ability to adapt to her new home.
In many ways, despite a bevy of young talent, this season feels like Lake Dallas’ shot at a deep postseason run after four consecutive seasons of being bounced in the bi-district round. Though names like sophomore Caelyn Gunn and juniors Candace Collier and Macie Banks, among others, will be in the program for more than just 2019, 2018 8-5A Setter of the Year Ruthie Forson is suiting up for her final shot.
Overall, though expectations are typically tempered during the first season of a new head coach’s reign with a program, the Lady Falcons may not get a better shot in the handful of seasons to come at breaking their recent first-round slump than they will in 2019 behind prototypical leader Forson and their core of young talent.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD
Matt Welch: Carrollton-Farmer Branch ISD benefited from a change in scenery last season, sending two teams to the playoffs for just the third time since 2003. RL Turner and Newman Smith not only made good on postseason berths, but advanced to the area round.
The Lady Lions figure to contend once again, with the dynamic hitter-setter duo of seniors of Kaitlyn Durkee and Jaelyn Lewis back to run the show. Lewis accounted for more than three-quarters of Turner’s assists last season, while Durkee is among the most versatile players in 11-5A after leading the Lady Lions in kills (381), aces (76) and digs (301) as a junior.
Newman Smith, meanwhile, has its own offensive anchor back in tow with senior Victoria Smith looking to build off an all-district campaign as a junior. Smith was far and away the Lady Trojans’ most potent hitter in 2018, posting 307 kills (131 more than her next-closest teammate) and her .297 hitting percentage was only clip above .150 on the team.
Smith doubled as the Lady Trojans’ top blocker with 104, but the team will have to develop experience elsewhere in its lineup.