While all comers were playing catch-up to Plano West at last weekend’s Nike ASC/LISD Classic, the Plano Senior and Plano East volleyball teams began their own respective 2019 campaigns with a bit more of an up-and-down showing in their first tournament of the season.
Suiting up alongside the Lady Wolves at the Advantage Sports Complex in Carrollton, both the Lady Wildcats and Lady Panthers logged top-10 finishes after two days of action. Plano broke even at 3-3 to tie for seventh place with Fort Worth Paschal and finish one rung above the ninth-place Lady Panthers.
“They played amazing. There wasn’t a single ball out there that they weren’t fighting for. They definitely fought for every single ball that came in their direction,” said Kaylin Kelley, Plano head coach.
The weekend marked the Lady Wildcats’ first action under Kelley, who was recently named the team’s interim head coach following the resignation of Teri Minnis. Early into her tenure, Kelley has worked on crafting a hard-nosed mindset for her squad, which lacks the size it has enjoyed in recent years, and putting that work ethic into practice was at the forefront of the coach’s objectives heading into the season’s first tournament.
“The focus was for them to understand the fight that they’re going to give every single match and learning how to work together and how every game is going to look different,” Kelley said. “Some of our returners saw the way it looked with our big girls last year, so they have to understand the level of fight they’ll need for being so small and so young. Our focus going in was to compete every single time they touched the ball.”
Kelley saw that sophomores Brooke McHale and Naylani Feliciano take the lead in carrying out that initiative, with McHale coming away from the event with all-tournament honors.
“Brooke was not afraid this weekend. She took swings that I’ve never seen her take — bigger swings and she was really just a standout leader for her team in every aspect,” Kelley said. “Her attitude on the court, the swings she was taking and her defense were phenomenal. Brooke showed real leadership on what a varsity-level competition needs to look like.”
Kelley lauded Feliciano’s work on defense, plus the job junior Ellie Tallent did stepping into the setter role throughout the tournament.
“We threw something out there and [Tallent] did it with no fear,” Kelley said. “She played six rotations and was a lot like Brooke in the sense that you never saw she was tired or down. She was just working for her team.”
Overall, the Lady Wildcats split their six matches down the middle, going 2-1 on Friday and 1-2 during Saturday’s bracket action. Day one featured victories over Azle (25-15, 25-12) and Bishop Lynch (23-25, 25-11, 25-21) to bolster a tournament-opening loss to McKinney North (26-24, 25-18), followed by a bracket-opening win over South Grand Prairie (28-26, 21-25, 25-21) before falling short against Lovejoy (24-26, 25-18, 25-19) and Keller (25-23, 25-18).
The Lady Wildcats continue tournament action Thursday at the Northwest ISD Volleyball Classic, drawing pool matchups against Saginaw Boswell (10 a.m.), Frisco Liberty (1 p.m.) and Belton (2 p.m.) at Adams Middle School.
“I’m anticipating a bit more fast-paced play and teams that’ll really put my girls to work. Some more of those older, more veteran-style teams with bigger kids and continuing to adjust my girls to that,” Kelley said.
Lady Panthers place 9th
The Cathy Manderson era began at Plano East last week, as the Lady Panthers kicked off their 2019 volleyball season with games against John Paul II (a 3-1 defeat), Frisco Wakeland (a 2-1 defeat) and an appearance at the Nike ASC/LISD Classic.
At the annual event, hosted by Texas Advantage Volleyball, the Lady Panthers got off to a hot start in pool play with victories over the Episcopal School of Dallas and Cedar Hill. Both wins came by way of the sweep, with the Lady Panthers taking down Episcopal, 2-0, on the back of 25-17 and 25-21 set wins and Cedar Hill by the same score after consecutive 25-14 set victories.
Things turned southward from there, however, as Manderson's bunch dropped its final pool-play contest, 2-0, to Keller (25-12, 25-19).
Still, the Lady Panthers earned an opportunity in the gold bracket, though they were bounced in the elimination stage's first round. Fort Worth Paschal handed East a 2-1 setback (25-23, 20-25, 25-19) before falling to eventual champion Plano West in the second round of the championship bracket.
East capped off its tournament with a 2-1 victory over South Grand Prairie (25-15, 21-25, 25-21) to take ninth place overall, just behind Plano, which finished in a tie for seventh.
The Lady Panthers will next suit up at the Allen Texas Open this weekend, where the field will once again include their rivals on the west side, as well as Texas Girls Coaches Association No. 3 The Woodlands. East finds itself in a pool alongside Frisco, Richardson Pearce and Cypress Creek.
Pool play begins Friday, when East will take on Cypress Creek at 9 a.m., Pearce at 12:45 p.m. and Frisco at 3:15 p.m. All games in the Lady Panthers' pool will be contested at Allen High School.
-Taylor Raglin contributed to this story