After a busy month of tournaments and other matches, the real season gets started for Rowlett and Sachse on Friday with the start of the 9-6A season.
The squads have experienced mixed results thus far, but the non-district slate is more about gaining experience and forging team chemistry than wins and losses.
Last season marked the continuation of a local dynasty and the end of an era.
Sachse made an immediate impact in its inaugural campaign in 2004 by advancing all the way to the regional tournament.
Since then, the Mustangs have reeled off 17 consecutive playoff appearances and have won at least a share of the district championship eight years in a row.
That streak continued last season as Sachse went 13-1 in 9-6A to earn a share of the title along with Wylie. The Mustangs were not finished, as they reeled off victories over Tyler Legacy, Waxahachie and Mansfield before falling to Klein in the regional semifinals.
Sachse does have some holes to fill after graduating six all-district performers, including offensive player of the year Shaliyah Rhoden, setter of the year Claire Romo and blocker of the year Kayla Grant, but the cupboard is not empty for head coach Rikki Jones, who has led the program since its inception.
Senior Zoria Heard, a three-year starter, was named co-server of the year last season when she recorded 40 aces. Heard, one of the top liberos in the area, was also named to the Texas Girls Coaches Association all-state team, as she tallied 330 digs, an average of 4.5 per set.
Junior Macy Taylor had a breakout season with her hitting and blocking abilities at the net and was named to the first team when she registered 176 kills (2.8 kpg) and 198 digs (2.6 dpg) with 36 blocks and 24 aces.
And sophomore Favor Anyanwu might be the team’s next big star. In her freshman season, Anyanwu developed as a force at the net, averaging 2.4 kills per set to go along with 50 blocks as she was voted as the 9-6A newcomer of the year, and she recorded 15 kills and seven blocks in last Tuesday’s match against Plano.
Rowlett, which opened a few years earlier, has enjoyed a similar run of success.
After missing out on the playoffs in its first year in1996, the Eagles established a Garland ISD record with 23 consecutive postseason berths.
Last season presented some different challenges, though, and when the dust settled, Rowlett found itself one game out of the playoff picture, thus putting the streak to an end.
All the Eagles can do now is try to start another run and they will do so with a nice all-district nucleus of senior setter/right side Chyanne Bradford, senior libero Reese Davison and junior right side/outside hitter Madeline Levvis.
To navigate its way back to the playoffs, Rowlett will have to knock out one of the teams it finished behind a year ago.
Co-district champion Wylie looks like it will be formidable once again and third-place Lakeview has been a solid contender the last few years.
In the battle for the final spot, there were actually four teams that finished separated by one game, but in somewhat of a surprise, it was North Garland who secured the berth.
Wylie graduated several key members from last year’s squad, and while they have endured some ups and downs through the first month, it should play a factor in the playoff race once again.
Freshman Karson Barclow has made an immediate impact, averaging 3.0 kills per game, while sophomores Addison Hinckley and Cherish Okpara are each tallying 2.1 kills per set.
Trinity Blackwood, an all-district pick last season, leads the team with 38 blocks and Jordyn Agee has added 30 blocks at the net.
Second-teamer Lauren Morano has a team-best 4.2 digs per game and Cori Westfall and Emily Behrens are averaging 4.7 and 3.3 assists per set.
Lakeview finished third in 9-6A a season ago and have a trio of all-district performers returning in senior Payton Williams, who had 91 kills (1.3 kpg), 27 aces and a district-leading 120 blocks, senior outside hitter Lauryn Allen-Upshaw (1.1 kpg, 3.7 dpg) and junior right side Joya Graham (2.5 dpg, 2.4 apg 1.2 kpg 47 blocks, 26 aces).
North Garland snapped a lengthy playoff drought and will try to remain in contention with the likes of junior middle hitter Avery Patterson, sophomore setter/defensive specialist Athena Nguyen, and sophomore middle blocker Zina Chukuwumah.
Naaman Forest, Garland and South Garland were on the outside looking in at the playoffs last season and will need others to step up if they hope to change their fate.