Volleyball: Playoffs see new blood

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This year's volleyball playoff picture has all of the usual suspects.

There's Argyle, of course, a Class 3A powerhouse that once again enters the postseason ranked as one of the top programs in the state. There's Ryan, a perennial district contender that is no stranger to the 4A playoffs. STATE VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS

Class 4ADenton (19-23) vs. Dumas, 6 p.m., Tuesday at Childress High SchoolRyan (16-18) vs. Canyon Randall, 5 p.m., Tuesday at Vernon High SchoolLake Dallas (27-15) vs. Hereford, 6:30 p.m., Tuesday at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls Class 3AArgyle (37-3) vs. Princeton-Diamond Hill Jarvis winner, Friday, TBAPilot Point (15-15) vs. Commerce, 7 p.m., Tuesday, at McKinney High SchoolClass 2AKrum (24-9) vs. Bangs, 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, at Graham High SchoolTAPPS Class 2A State TournamentCalvary (23-5) vs. DeSoto Canterbury, 11 a.m. Friday, Alamo Convocation Center, San Antonio

Yet, the first round of this year's postseason isn't defined by the same old stories and teams. Instead, it'll be marked by new blood - a series of firsts that came from the result of a thrilling regular season that saw area programs such as Lake Dallas, Denton and Krum finish strong and make for a surprising group of bi-district matchups.

In total, eight area teams qualified for the playoffs this year: Lake Dallas, Denton, Ryan, Argyle, Pilot Point, Krum, Denton Calvary and Liberty Christian. Of those eight teams, two - the Lady Falcons and Lady Eagles - won district championships, two - the Lady Raiders and Lady Broncos - will face off with teams ranked among the top five in the state, and one - Krum - will be making its first playoff appearance in school history.

Of all of those compelling stories, perhaps none was more impressive than the rise of Lake Dallas.

Long an afterthought among its district peers, the Lady Falcons (28-14) rose to the top of District 4-4A this season with the help of a core group of seniors and first-year head coach Heather Van Noy.

Van Noy, a former assistant at Guyer, took over at Lake Dallas this year for the departed Mary Ketcher and immediately made a splash - using a loaded roster full of experienced seniors such as Samantha Llamas, Whitley Chambers and Sarah Street to romp undefeated through district play. The Lady Falcons didn't lose a single set until their regular season-ending four-set win over Wichita Falls Rider a week ago.

Lake Dallas' breakout season helped it avoid the top teams in District 3-4A, one of the most competitive groups in the state, and instead gave it a date with Hereford - that district's fourth-place team.

Denton, meanwhile, wasn't as fortunate.

The Lady Broncos (19-23) are matched up with Dumas - the second-place team in 3-4A and the No. 5 team in the state, according to the latest Texas Girls Coaches Association 4A volleyball poll.

Still, the fact that Denton is even in the playoffs is impressive enough.

Just two weeks ago, the Lady Broncos were all but out of the 4-4A playoff picture at 4-6 in district play and behind four other teams for the final three available playoff spots. Denton managed to keep its season alive with a five-set win over Ryan, however, and, with a little help from The Colony and Lake Dallas, surged into the playoffs with a five-set win over Wichita Falls behind huge nights from Gennifer Holberg, Kendall Wagner, Paige Pippin and Carrie Pena.

In that win, Holberg had 17 kills while Wagner added 12. Pippin, meanwhile, had 31 assists on the night while Pena had 13 digs to boost the Lady Broncos into the playoffs.

Denton then rallied from a two-set deficit in a play-in game for the No. 3 seed with the Lady Raiders to win in five sets and finish off an impressive regular-season turnaround.

"I don't think it was one specific thing that can explain why everything just suddenly turned around," first-year Denton coach Danielle Silva said. "I think they just finally started to feel the pressure and they'd been working really hard and they just decided it was time. Better late than never, I guess."

Still, the Broncos face a tough task in Dumas - which finished second in 3-4A only by virtue of its loss to No. 1 Canyon Randall. Silva maintains that Denton can stay with Dumas, and judging by past history, she may have a point. The Lady Broncos managed to steal sets from powers Argyle and Frisco Wakeland in games earlier this year before fading away.

"We're capable of giving those kinds of teams a run," Silva said. "We just have to do it more consistently. As long as we're aggressive and working to take them off of their offense on any ball we give them, I know we can give them a run for their money. We've proven that we can before."

Ryan (16-22), which lost to Denton in that play-in game, has the unfortunate distinction of facing Canyon Randall in the first round after dropping from a possible No. 2 seed to the No. 4 seed with back-to-back losses to the Lady Broncos to end the season.

Argyle (37-3), meanwhile, will have a bye in the first-round and will play the winner of Princeton and Fort Worth Diamond Hill-Jarvis in the area round. A win there would possibly set up yet another rematch with No. 1 Lovejoy - the same team that has bounced the Lady Eagles from the regional quarterfinals for three consecutive years.

Krum, the only 2A playoff qualifier, will face Bangs in the first round in its first year as a playoff-eligible program. The winner of that game will get a bye into the regional quarterfinals and will face either Holliday or Blanco.

Calvary has already advanced through the area and regional round and will meet DeSoto Canterbury on Friday in the TAPPS 2A state semifinals.The Lady Lions, 23-5 on the year, was undefeated in district play, received a bye in bi-district, defeated Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills in the area round and knocked off Austin Waldrof in the regional finals.

Liberty Christian was a bi-district winner but was eliminated from the TAPPS playoffs in the area round.

MARSHALL MOORE can be reached at 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is mmoore@dentonrc.com . .

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