After going nearly two decades between postseason appearances, the R.L. Turner volleyball team has all of a sudden won a playoff match in back-to-back seasons.
One year removed from a gratifying bi-district victory over Kimball, the Lady Lions kicked off their 2019 postseason campaign on Monday in emphatic fashion — scoring a 3-0 sweep (25-12, 25-8, 25-8) of District 12-5A runner-up South Oak Cliff at Newman Smith High School.
Turner entered the night as the lower seeded of the two squads after placing third in 11-5A but never looked the part — establishing leads of at least 16 points in all three sets behind a furious combination of serving and an offensive approach that flummoxed the Lady Bears’ defense.
“Every time I talk to them, it’s about making sure we go into the game focused. We never want to underestimate an opponent and we want to perform up to our full potential no matter who it is that we’re against,” said Nakia Belcher, Turner head coach. “Whatever the outcome is, we always want to make sure that we step on the court and compete.”
That outcome wasn’t in doubt on Monday, with Turner surrendering only five kills total in a match that saw SOC amass just 28 points over three sets played. By comparison, the Lady Lions racked 24 points behind the service line alone — something that has been a focal point for the team this season, according to Belcher.
That was on display once again Monday, with sophomore Marissa Mendioroz tallying seven aces and junior Tanner Barnwell and senior Jaelyn Lewis posting four apiece.
“We are usually somewhere between 90-94% from the service line, so we knew that if we could just serve aggressively as a team then it could create some issues for them trying to return the ball,” Belcher said.
If the Lady Bears did manage to get the ball back over the net, they were then often at the mercy of Turner senior Victoria Smith. The Lady Lions’ towering outside hitter had her way with the SOC front line, hammering down a match-high 18 kills, including 10 in the third set.
“She definitely has carried the load for us. If we can control the ball and get it on target, she can put it down,” Belcher said. “She has been a front-runner for us and our offense mostly goes through her, as well as [Kaitlyn Durkee] and [Mendioroz].”
Transferring from Newman Smith during the offseason, Smith’s arrival at Turner has helped stabilize the program’s upward trajectory on the heels of last season’s hallmark campaign. Belcher noted that the Lady Lions welcomed Smith with open arms upon arrival, with the hitter’s imprint so immediate that she was named a team captain in just her first year with the program alongside linchpin and senior outside hitter Kaitlyn Durkee, Lewis and senior Martha Trevizo.
With Durkee chipping in eight kills on Monday, that one-two punch has vaulted the Lady Lions to a 27-11 record this year and a spot in the second round of the Class 5A postseason.
“I’ve been here for five years and even the officials in the district who have been around for decades will congratulate us on the turnaround this program has been through,” Belcher said. “… I could have changed the whole dynamic but I didn’t and allowed them to do what they do best. Those girls have followed, especially the underclassmen — they look forward to it and they follow the leadership of the older girls.”
The Lady Lions continue their playoff run later this week in a second-round tilt with state-ranked powerhouse Frisco Liberty, slotted at No. 8 in 5A at 32-5.