It didn’t take long into club volleyball season for LoneStar 15 Red head coach Jacob Hanan to see that he had something special on his hands.
The Frisco-based program, clad in Metroplex standouts, fused a veteran cast chock-full of on-court experience together and welcomed a small handful of newcomers that meshed seamlessly to produce a third-place finish in the 15 Open division at the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships, held earlier this month in Indiana.
Posting an 8-2 record and winning 17-of-25 sets played, LoneStar’s bronze-winning roster featured Frisco Reedy sophomores Jordan Chapman, Camryn Hill, Kelsey Perry and Isabella Trujillo, as well as Plano West sophomores Jean Dixon, Camryn McGough and Joyce Wang, Prosper sophomore Jazzlyn Ford, Lake Dallas sophomore Caelyn Gunn, Allen sophomore Emma Janek, Argyle sophomore Jessie Moore and Frisco Centennial freshman Angela Henson.
“I’ve been with seven players from this crew since they were 12 years old, so I knew that if we found the right pieces as we got older and older that we could be something special,” Hanan said. “They’re a good group. They love each other, they fight for each other and they play for each other. We don’t have the kids that just fly in the sky like a TAV or some of the other clubs – this is a group that knows their roles and plays harder than the other team.”
LoneStar had been forging that identity for months, notably in April after placing second in the Lone Star qualifier. There, the team debuted a new lineup and a triangle offense – a system that used three hitters of the same sort at the same time – and immediately reaped the benefits, with Hanan estimating a 31-5 record for his club after the change.
That, coupled with the team’s penchant for grinding down opponents with serving, passing and defense, primed the group for a promising run entering the week of nationals. It all fit on paper – LoneStar entered the tournament with the third-most wins against the field of any team in its division – but Hanan knew that at some point his team’s chances of medaling would require confronting area rival MADFROG, whose 15’s National Green squad sported a perfect 5-0 record against LoneStar.
Both teams qualified for the 15 Open division, and after seven matches apiece at nationals, were paired opposite one another in a crossover match on June 30, with LoneStar needing a win to secure a spot in the Gold bracket. Buoyed by the momentum of a 6-1 record beforehand, LoneStar took down MADFROG in two sets (25-17, 25-21).
“It was one of the best games that our girls have ever played,” Hanan said. “We basically handed it to them really quick and in just two sets. We were on fire. It felt like our girls couldn’t be stopped and it was awesome to see.”
LoneStar followed that up with a three-set, national quarterfinal victory (22-25, 26-24, 15-12) over an Academy of Volleyball Cleveland squad that had placed second overall in 2018, but exited in the semifinals against eventual division champion, Houston-based Skyline(18-25, 25-21, 15-7).
Hill and Ford both earned all-tournament selections for their efforts, with Hill joining Chapman, Dixon, Henson, McGough, Trujillo and Wang as players making their third consecutive appearance at nationals with LoneStar – improving on their finish each time (15th in 13 Open in 2017, fifth in 14 Open in 2018). Seeing that continuity validated was particularly gratifying for Hanan, who has coached the majority of his 12-girl roster for multiple years.
“To keep a team together for so long is pretty much unheard of in our region, because everybody goes for the next best thing,” he said. “You have TAV, Skyline and MADFROG, all great clubs, and kids tend to go to the name instead of the coach. These kids knew that they were special together and not away from each other.
“When they’re together, they all know what’s going on when they’re on the court and the new kids picked it up right away.”
Hanan added that 10 players from his 15 Red squad are planning on staying with the program next summer, as LoneStar eyes an even higher finish at nationals. Beforehand, though, all 12 of his players will look to carry over the experience gained competing against some of the country’s top club teams for their respective 2019 seasons on the high school hardwood.
“The Open division is the top 36 teams in the country, so you really are out there battling the best of the best,” Hanan said. “In high school, it’s similar to what you see at the varsity level. The speed of the game at Open is so much faster and you see that when they come into high school, everything slows down a bit.
“These kids can go into their high school seasons already knowing the speed of the game without having to worry about it. To me, I think that helps a lot.”