For the third consecutive year, the Prestonwood Christian volleyball team is headed to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools state tournament. For the first time during that span, the Lady Lions will do so as the defending state champions.
Prestonwood’s title defense continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Waco at University High School in the 6A semifinals against familiar foe Bishop Lynch – ironically enough, the same team the Lady Lions had to conquer in the penultimate round of the last year’s postseason.
Should Prestonwood advance, that could very well set up a rematch with Tomball Concordia Lutheran – who the Lady Lions rallied to defeat, 3-2, for their fourth TAPPS state championship in 2018.
Although there’s plenty of familiarity with this week’s trip to state, the roadmap has been a bit different from last season, but one that ultimately has led Prestonwood right back to where it expects to be, nonetheless.
“This group has been really special. After last year, we came back with a few key players but had some spots to fill in and were just trying to figure it all out at the beginning of the season, and the girls were really patient throughout that process,” said Jillian Jeffcoat, Prestonwood head coach. “As we hit our stride in district and into the playoffs, they’ve really started peaking at the right time. They’re really excited to be back in the state semifinals.”
On paper, there’s a different makeup to this Lady Lion group in just one year’s time. Some of the size Prestonwood enjoyed on the right side last year was lost to graduation and one of the team’s top returning hitters – senior Noelle Piatas – is pursuing a state championship of her own in UIL competition with nearby Plano West.
Fortunately for Jeffcoat, a readymade replacement was already in house.
“Noelle is a great player who played a lot of different roles for us, both on offense and defense, but we had an eager junior in Sophia Jerome where that’s her normal spot and she just seamlessly fell into that role and she provides a lot of offense for us,” Jeffcoat said. “Even more so, she provides a steadiness emotionally that we were really looking for.”
Jeffcoat added that the team’s depreciation in size at the net has meant ramping up efforts defensively behind the block, but that the offense has remained strong behind Jerome and senior captain Caroline Stogner – both of whom were named to the TAPPS all-state tournament team last season alongside senior libero Riley Wiest. In addition to those three, Jeffcoat noted that seniors Hadley Harrison and Cami Deaton have been key contributors at setter.
“They’ve just all grown up a little bit from last year and mentally and emotionally have figured out how to win tough games,” Jeffcoat said.
Prestonwood proved as much last weekend in persevering for a 3-2 victory over Argyle Liberty Christian in the state quarterfinals, solidifying a rematch with a Lynch squad that, much like the Lady Lions, is coming into its own late in the year.
Not long removed from a stretch where they played in the state title game eight times in nine years, the Lady Friars mustered just a fifth-place finish in district play this season, including two losses to Prestonwood, but have turned things up in the playoffs with a pair of 3-2 victories over powerhouses Parish Episcopal and Ursuline.
“I think they’ve made some really good adjustments as a coaching staff. They’ve moved some kids around that’s really helped them offensively,” Jeffcoat said. “Plus, with the playoff experience they have in the last 12 years, we kind of expect them to be in the mix regardless of how their district season goes. They know what it takes to win playoff games.”
The Lady Lions and Lady Friars tip off Friday in Waco, with the winner taking on either Concordia Lutheran or St. Agnes Academy at 1 p.m. Saturday at West High School in the TAPPS 6A championship game.
“There’s definitely an eagerness, but there’s not an anxiety like there was last year,” Jeffcoat said. “They just trust the process, the coaches trust the players and we’ve got something working right now.”