The 2021 high school volleyball season came to a close last weekend with many a state champion crowned across the state.
Six programs across the state hoisted a state title over three days of competition in Garland at the Curtis Culwell Center during the annual UIL state tournament, and six others basked in that same championship glory as part of the TAPPS state tournament, held in West.
And although many others entered the year sharing similar aspirations, the journey that encompassed the season’s three months produced plenty of highlights for programs across the area.
As volleyball fans bid adieu to the 2021 season, here’s a look around the Star Local Media coverage area at some of the year’s memorable moments within each of our 14 markets.
Matt Welch: The parting sight of my 2021 volleyball coverage was a familiar occurrence on Saturday, watching the state’s preeminent volleyball dynasty, Lovejoy, capture its ninth UIL state championship.
The Lady Leopards scaled the UIL record books to now tie for fifth overall in volleyball titles won, a staggering rise considering they won their first championship in 2008. Nine titles over a 14-season span is an absurdly impressive accomplishment.
Just as noteworthy is how Lovejoy annually handles its business — winning 21-of-22 sets during the playoffs and doing so behind a relentless balance and efficiency that broke all comers. Six of the program’s seniors — Averi Carlson, Rosemary Archer, Grace Milliken, Maddie Smittle, Megan Diercks and Avery Villareal — graduate as being part of three consecutive state championship runs.
Matt Welch: Every coach yearns for his or her team to peak at the right time heading into the playoffs. Although there were some bumps along the way, Hebron head coach Karin Keeney and the Lady Hawks conjured some postseason magic befitting of one of the state’s most decorated volleyball programs.
Despite being not even assured a playoff spot at the end of the regular season — needing to win two play-in matches just to qualify — Hebron didn’t let its return to the postseason go to waste. They upset 5-6A champion Denton Guyer in the bi-district round, which set the table for a run to the regional semifinals as a No. 4 seed.
It was a swift reminder that no matter the record or the seeding, the Lady Hawks remain one of the area’s toughest outs in the playoffs.
Matt Welch: Emotional as the aftermath of Saturday’s state runner-up finish may have been for Celina, it was a year for the history books for the Lady Bobcats’ volleyball program. Celina made its first-ever appearance at the UIL state tournament, a run that culminated in the 4A championship match.
Saturday’s loss to Decatur concluded the Lady Bobcats’ year at 42-2 overall. Thirty-seven of those wins came via sweep, as Celina maximized the potential of a veteran roster that graduated just one player from its 2020 campaign.
That bred a chemistry and camaraderie lauded by those within the program.
“I can truly say with this team, all those girls are my very best friends and I wouldn’t trade any team in the whole country for this one,” said Ryan McCoy, sophomore, following Saturday’s championship match. “It’s the best group of girls, and I’m very proud of us.”
David Wolman: Coppell brought in a new head coach this season after the resignation of former bench boss Julie Price. However, the Cowgirls will begin a search for another head coach post-Christmas break after Libby Pacheco recently announced she will step down after one season at the helm.
But Coppell experienced a lot of success in Pacheco’s only season in charge of the program, winning tournament titles at Arlington and Justin Northwest and starting the season 20-1 on its way to a final record of 26-12.
The Cowgirls fell one win short of earning a playoff berth after losing to Hebron in a play-in tournament. Nine of the program’s seasons – Abby Hendricks, Aley Clent, Beca Centeno, ElleBelle Zimmerman, Haley Holz, Helena De moraes, Meagan Lee, Rayne Bossier and Sude Item and Meagan Lee – will graduate.
But the Cowgirls will return junior outside hitter Skye LaMendola (297 kills, 293 digs, 45 aces) and junior setter Taylor Young (889 assists), among others, next year.
Devin Hasson: Reedy is one of the youngest programs in the area, but it hit the ground running, not only making the playoffs in its inaugural campaign in 2016, but it also advanced to the regional quarterfinals.
The Lions returned to the playoffs in 2017, 2018 and 2020, capturing a pair of district titles along the way, but each of those postseason trips also ended in the third round.
This season, Reedy was determined to take the next step.
Led by a bevy of all-district performers, including 9-5A MVP and junior Halle Schroder, the Lions separated from a tight district pack, finishing with a 17-1 record to win the title by five games over the rest of the field.
Again advancing to the regional quarterfinals, Reedy’s road did not end in the third round. They swept McKinney North to advance to the regional tournament for the first time.
The Lions were not quite done, edging out Highland Park in a 18-25, 25-16, 25-20, 18-25, 25-11 victory to reach the regional final where the run came to an end with a four-set loss to state champion Lovejoy.
David Wolman: Although Lake Dallas fell short of making the playoffs for the second straight season, the Lady Falcons pulled off one of the area’s biggest upsets on Sept. 12.
That night, Lake Dallas won a five-set thriller against Grapevine – the Lady Mustangs went five rounds deep in the playoffs in 2020 and, this year, made it all the way to the 5A state tournament, where they lost to Lovejoy in the final.
Lake Dallas senior outside hitter Caelyn Gunn was recognized for surpassing 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs for her high school career during a ceremony that was held on Aug. 24 during a home match against Kennedale.
Matt Welch: Although the Lady Farmers remained in search of their first playoff berth since 1995 — such is the plight of annually competing in one of the area’s toughest volleyball districts — Lewisville strung together one of its more noteworthy preseasons in recent memory.
The Lady Farmers’ 12 victories matched their largest win total since 2015, a productive note for a senior class that included several players with at least three years of varsity experience under their belts.
That includes senior Mataiya Perry, an all-district first-team pick who finished tops on her team in assists (596), digs (341) and aces (35).
David Wolman: Little Elm started the season with a bang, doing so under the direction of first-year head coach Veronica Mendez.
The Lady Lobos notched just two wins all of last year. But Little Elm needed less than a week to surpass that total, earning its third win of the 2021 season via a 2-0 win against Harker Heights on Aug. 14. In fact, the Lady Lobos finished the preseason with eight victories and a lot of promise heading forward.
Senior outside hitter Emma Robinson was a force as her all-around play sparked Little Elm. Robinson finished with 112 kills, 125 digs and 27 service aces, earning her a spot on the 5-6A all-district second team.
While the Lady Lobos will miss Robinson’s presence n the court next year, Little Elm is excited about the potential of a pair of sophomores – middle blocker Quinn Brignac and setter Kali Liva.
Matt Welch: McKinney North has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years under head coach Libby Rodriguez. The bar was set high for the Lady Bulldogs after advancing to the regional finals in 2020, and although the team fell two wins short of matching that feat, North further bolstered the most productive stretch in program history.
The Lady Bulldogs won their first-ever district championship, a feat highlighted by a 3-0 win over eventual 5A state champion Lovejoy on Sept. 24 — the only time the Lady Leopards were swept in three sets all season. And North came within a hairline of a second win over Lovejoy, taking the perennial powerhouse to five sets in the Oct. 19 rematch.
With linchpins like juniors Natalie Hughes, Tinley Merder and Lily Nicholson all due back next season, North should remain potent.
Devin Hasson: Times have been tough for Mesquite ISD volleyball programs in recent years. Though Poteet made the playoffs two seasons ago, Mesquite (2012), North Mesquite (2011) and West Mesquite (1993) are in the midst of lengthy postseason droughts.
During that time, MISD’s youngest program, Horn, has carried the torch.
Led by 10-6A outstanding libero junior Ryan Henderson and first-team all-district performers in senior Erica Anaba and sophomore Madison Mosley, the Jaguars were once again the school district’s only playoff representative.
Horn’s streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances is the second longest for a MISD volleyball program behind Poteet’s run of 20 in a row from 1996-2015 and the Jaguars have now qualified for the postseason in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Matt Welch: Plano’s 2020 campaign never really got off the ground, mired in a constant stop-and-start due to COVID-19.
The Lady Wildcats returned to playoff contention in head coach Lindsey Petzold’s second year at the helm, as Plano finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in 6-6A alongside Hebron and Coppell.
The Lady Wildcats made a big second-half charge to climb the standings, thanks in part to the play of senior libero Naylani Feliciano.
The Miami commit has anchored the back row for Plano since her freshman year and concluded her high school career with 6-6A’s defensive player of the year accolade and an All-America first-team selection by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Feliciano totaled 871 digs on the season to finish with 2,215 across her storied varsity career.
Devin Hasson: Sachse is one of the few programs that can make the claim it has never missed the playoffs. The Mustangs hit the ground running in their inaugural campaign in 2004 and have extended that streak to 18 appearances in a row.
Sachse has become perhaps the most consistently successful team of any Garland ISD program and continues to raise the bar, particularly in the last decade.
Since a third-place finish in 2012, the Mustangs have claimed at least a share of the district title in nine consecutive seasons, dropping just seven district matches during that span.
This season, Sachse rolled to a 14-0 campaign in 9-6A, dropping just one set along the way, as they went on to advance to the regional tournament.
Do not expect the Mustangs to fall from their perch any time soon, as they will return five all-district performers, including most valuable player Macy Taylor and offensive player of the year Favor Anyanwu.
David Wolman: After barely missing the playoffs a year ago, The Colony got over the hump this season to give head coach Rachel Buckley her first playoff appearance in just her second year as the team’s bench boss.
The Colony clinched a playoff berth on the final night of the regular season with a win over Denison via three-set sweep. In a bi-district playoff, the Lady Cougars jumped out to a 19-10 lead over 9-5A champion Frisco Reedy in the first set. But the Lions, a regional finalist, posted a big rally and went on to win the match in three sets.
Reaching the playoffs was one of several highlights on the season for The Colony. The Lady Cougars finished in second place in the Planet Volleywood Tournament at Berkner High School in August.