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Volleyball: Improbable playoff run has Argyle eyeing state title

ARGYLE — Argyle is back in the state volleyball tournament for a fourth consecutive season. And many people are trying to figure out how.

At 26-18, the Lady Eagles have more losses than any of the other 23 teams that've made it this far. Glen Rose, Needville and Liberty Hill, the other Class 4A title contenders, have 20 losses between them. Their combined 123 wins create an even greater disparity. 

Glen Rose, Argyle's opponent for Thursday's semifinal at Garland's Curtis Culwell Center, is 48-1.

"26-18 versus 48-1 — no problem, right?" Argyle senior Danielle Davis said with a laugh.

For the first time in what seems like eons, the Lady Eagles didn't win their district. They don't have the star-studded cast of their state appearances in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016, and they have a first-year coach in Megan DeGroot. 

But here they are, back where they belong. And their confidence couldn't be any higher as they seek to maintain their winning tradition.

"Halfway through the season, we realized this is Argyle volleyball," senior Sophie Betzhold said. "We are supposed to be here. And look at us now."

As improbable as the state berth is, Argyle earned every bit of it. The Lady Eagles' nondistrict slate pitted them against more than a handful of Class 5A and Class 6A teams, and they entered District 9-4A play with a meager 14-15 record.

A 3-0 loss to Sanger on Sept. 22 to open district action snapped a storied 66-match district win streak. Three matches into the district schedule, Argyle was 1-2.

By all accounts, the Lady Eagles were officially an afterthought. 

"That was the biggest [oh no] moment in Argyle volleyball history," junior Paxton McGlinch said of the loss to Sanger. "We didn't even think we'd make it to where we are at now — no chance."

But Argyle lost just one match after that and knocked off district foes Decatur and Krum in the playoffs. None of the Lady Eagles' playoff matches has gone more than four sets.

In district and the playoffs, Argyle has four girls with at least 100 kills. Davis leads the team in that stretch with 143 kills, followed by Betzhold's 132. Mariah Hesselgesser has 34 total blocks coming into the state tournament while Kassidy Reeves has 453 assists. 

"These girls were only going to get better. I remember people telling me, 'If you don't make it to the playoffs or state, it's OK. It's expected,'" DeGroot said. "My attitude was, 'No, don't tell me that.'

"I would take all the tough times all over again for where we are at now."

DeGroot, a former assistant at 6A Southlake Carroll, said the key was getting those younger players to realize they had to do things differently than they'd done in the past — mostly because they didn't have the same weapons. Gone were Halee Van Poppel (Belmont), Allison White (Texas Tech) and Maddie DeGuire (Lubbock Christian) from last year's team that lost to Bushland in the 4A final. Before that, they had Katy Keenan (Texas Tech), Eighmy Dobbins (Texas Tech) and Alexa Bass (Oral Roberts). 

With those girls, Argyle was a staggering 188-47 between 2012 and 2016 and won it all in 2015.

"This program has been blessed with awesome athletes. They were fundamentally sound," DeGroot said. "Our girls would say, 'Why can't we just go out there and play?' It's because we lost a lot, and we had to do a lot of teaching. You want to know what your opponents' tendencies are. You have to watch film, learn what defense they are in and be able to switch up your defense and blocking schemes according to whom you're playing. 

"The goal was to always be one step ahead. That's why we are here."

McGlinch, who did not play in either of last year's state tournament matches, agreed. 

"We learned that nothing was going to be given to us," McGlinch said. "The players we lost were the ones we could always depend on. The ones we depend on now are the players like me who last year subbed in and out and were put in different places. We've never been in this position before.

"We are peaking at the right time."

And that makes their 26-18 record all the more worth it. 

"These girls almost wanted to make their state tournament shirt say something like, '26-18 ... How did we get here?'" DeGroot said with a laugh. "[That record coming into the state tournament] is not unheard of, but you definitely don't want to judge a team by its record."

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.