ARGYLE — Back in November when the Argyle volleyball team made program history by advancing to its first state tournament, the Lady Eagles were in the proverbial camp of being “happy to be there.”
After the way the Lady Eagles’ journey ended in the Class 3A state semifinals, they were dying for another shot following a dramatic five-set loss to eventual state champion Abilene Wylie that featured an 18-16 fifth set.
“Last year was awesome — probably something I’ll never forget — but at the same time losing in the semis, especially how we did, 18-16 in fifth set, that’s the kind of thing that haunts you,” said Clark Oberle, the only volleyball coach the program has had. “That will keep you up nights in the summer. The girls have really been motivated by it. Our offseason was the best we’ve ever had. Our summer participation has been great.”
The Lady Eagles lost a good amount of production to graduation but also bring back several key pieces.
Back are front line stars Brooke Robertson, Eighmy Dobbins and junior Texas Tech pledge Katy Keenan, who each tallied well over 300 kills in 2012 with Robertson posting a team-high 425.
The question is, who will set up all of Argyle’s strong hitters? The answer might be a new look altogether.
Gone is Blair O’Brien, a four-year starter who earned a place in the national record books for career assists after adding 1,453 to her career total as a senior last year, including an astonishing 63 in the state semifinal. Two sophomores will look to fill that void in Strealy Sizelove and Coppell transfer Alexa Bass.
“It’ll be different not having her there,” Keenan said of O’Brien. “She was always a calming factor and kept everyone level-headed and never let the game get out of control. We have several girls who will step into that role, and I think I will too.”
Keenan will be counted on to step into a big leadership role despite being the team’s only junior, with just five seniors, and she’s ready for the challenge.
“I found myself as the little kid the past two years,” said Keenan, who has started since she was a freshman. “I’ve always been one of the younger ones. I’m still the only junior, but I’m the tall middle and am playing Division I volleyball and have a big target on my back. Girls look up to me. The freshmen ask me what they should do in the weight room, so I feel like it’s on me to help this program to the next level.”
Returning trio leading Guyer
After two tough seasons in Class 5A, Guyer returned to the postseason in 2012 after finishing second in District 5-4A behind Trophy Club Nelson.
As the teams enter this season, those two are still the favorites to win the district ahead of what should be a jumbled mess in the standings behind them.
The Lady Wildcats set up nicely for the season with four returning starters, including two explosive players on the front line in Mikayla Yates and Sydney Reyes and a four-year starter at setter in Madison Walford.
“All the girls look up to her,” Guyer coach Addie Mack said of Walford. “She’s a leader off the court as well. They know regardless of where the ball is she’ll put it in a good place and she’ll always work hard. She sets a great example. It’s good to know they have that one person who’s a foundation for us. That experience is unmatched. You don’t get a four-year starter very often.”
With the season kicking off Tuesday against a quality Mansfield Legacy squad, Mack said she’s both excited and a bit nervous.
“I’m ready for that season to start, but of course you always look at what you can work on and try to get better,” Mack said. “We have to focus on what our weaknesses are and try to improve them and start our season off on the right foot.”
Lady Falcons hope to build off struggles of last season
In her first season as the head coach at Lake Dallas, Heather Van Noy’s squads rolled all the way to the regional quarterfinals before falling to Dumas — the deepest a Lake Dallas volleyball team had ever gone in the postseason.
Her second year wasn’t so memorable, as the Lady Falcons struggled with a young group in 2012 that finished near the bottom of District 5-4A. But with many of the players who were young in 2011 now reaching varsity contributor status, Van Noy is confident 2013 will be better.
“The girls don’t ever want to feel like that again,” Van Noy said. “It needed to happen for this group to get fired up. I only have two seniors [Lauren Peifer and Alexis Medina] and neither played a whole lot last year, but when we went that far these kids were a part of that. They saw what it took and they want to get there. It’s not something you can forget, anyway, it’s just something you have to learn from.”
One point of excitement for Van Noy is a young group of middle blockers in Kathryn Laubacher, Cassie Garnett and freshman Madilyn Bodkin. They also have a new coach as Van Noy hired Mary Caitlin Bottles, a former star middle blocker at Rowlett and Stephen F. Austin, to be her new assistant.
“That has been huge for our middles, because they’re so young,” Van Noy said. “I have a freshman and two juniors, and [Bottles has] been able to help them see the bigger picture instead of just doing their one job. She lets them see how important they are for all six girls on the court.”
Lady Broncos getting their opportunity to step up
In head coach Danielle Silva’s first two years at Denton, the Lady Broncos made the playoffs. Last season was highlighted by a late-season roar to playoffs, where Denton lost in the area round against the offensively stout Aledo Lady Cats.
This season, Silva is looking toward one proven commodity and an underclassman on the rise.
“Jade Akins is returning for her third year on varsity and she is our outside hitter and our power hitter,” Silva said. “She’s been a really good go-to player. Kenzie Dozier is going to be a sophomore and it’s her second year on varsity. She played middle for us a little bit last year, and we’re going to look at her on the outside more this year.”
Senior Mariah Warren will enjoy her second year on varsity this season, and Silva is looking forward to watching her flourish.
“She didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, so I’m excited to see her get out on the court and play outside.”
The Lady Broncos are lacking their facilitating setters who graduated, and Silva is leaning on setter Hannah Altman to prime the offense this season.
“She has always had great hands but has always been a very good hitter,” Silva said. “We’ve been perfecting her hands and she’s just a hustler. I’m really excited to see her out on the court. We needed a middle last year, and this year she’s going to do a dual role for us.”
Krum welcomes new coach
After spending a year as an assistant coach at Brock, Lynn Larson figured she needed to be closer to her home and family in Bridgeport.
Larson took over as Krum’s head coach this summer, and through the first week of practice, Larson said she was pleased at her new school.
“I’m extremely excited,” Larson said. “I can’t be happier with the things that I’ve seen in the first three days. We had 45 girls come try out. That says a lot in this size of a school, so there’s definitely some interest there.”
The 42-year old coach takes over for Stacey Lucas, who remains the school’s head softball coach. Prior to her one-year stint at Brock, Larson was the head coach at Bridgeport for six seasons.
Krum has seven seniors on this year’s squad who are looking to advance past the regional quarterfinals, the stumbling block that’s hindered Krum the past two seasons in the playoffs. The new coach said the 2013 season will be far from a rebuilding year.
“There’s a little learning curve with a new coach coming in, but they’re all just very open-minded and ready to get going,” Larson said.
Deaver takes over at Aubrey
After a two-year absence from the sidelines, Lisa Deaver decided she couldn’t stay off the court any longer. She officiated basketball and volleyball during the last two years, but when the head coaching position at Aubrey opened up, Deaver went back to the place she knew best.
Deaver will take over at Aubrey after spending the last two years teaching at Liberty Christian, where she was the head coach for nine years.
“So many of the things that I believe and I put value in are the very things they [Aubrey] believe and put value in,” Deaver said. “It was just a great fit.”
The new coach will try to lead Aubrey to the postseason for the first time since the Lady Chaparrals moved up to Class 3A in 2010. Aubrey’s last playoff appearance came in 2009, the year the Lady Chaparrals lost to Poth in the Class 2A state final.
Deaver said the whole purpose of the first week of practice is for evaluation of not only her players but the team’s long-term goals as well.
“It’s also not evaluating where each of them currently are, but also evaluating what’s your starting point — what’s going to be our focus this season, what’s going to be the tone of the season, how we’re going to accomplish the goals that we have in mind,” Deaver said.
Youthful Sanger preparing for run at playoff berth
It’d be easy to mistake the youth on Sanger’s roster for inexperience.
That’s not the case with the Lady Indians. Despite having middle blocker Kayla Askey as the team’s lone senior, Sanger returns eight varsity players from last season. Coach Tammy Niemczyk said her team showed up to the first week of practice and displayed a high level of intensity.
“We have the most returning starters since I’ve been [at Sanger], so I think they know the expectations and they’re performing to that level,” Niemczyk said.
Along with Askey, the Lady Indians will be anchored by junior setter Morgan Turkoly, who has started on varsity since she was a freshman.
The duo will attempt to erase last year’s memory of narrowly missing the final playoff berth out of District 9-3A, a task that’s starting in the season’s first week.
“We’re doing everything possible to not let that happen again,” Niemczyk said.
Pilot Point set for change
With several seniors departing, last year’s 5-2A coach of the year, Becky Phillips, said Pilot Point’s team is still filled with experience.
“Five of my eight kids on varsity are club players, so I’ve got a lot of experience on my team even though I lost some players that had been on varsity that made a huge impact on the program in that past three years,” Phillips said.
With the loss of last year’s MVP A.J. Campbell, three captains will help take the reins. Senior outside hitter Kirby Smith, senior middle blocker Abby Switzer and last year’s defensive player of the year, junior setter Marrisa Morris, will look to build off last year’s 31-8 season.
“They’ve been on varsity for a while,” Phillips said. “They know the expectations and how we run the program. Ashtyn Richey was second on our team in hitting percentage as a freshman as a middle blocker. She probably hits the ball harder than anybody on our team.”
The Lady Cats will transition to a different defense as well.
“I’m going to run the 6-2 with two setters, and we are going to run a different defense this year,” Phillips said. “We lost a core group, but we’ve been looking extremely sharp in two-a-days. Offensively, we are running a quicker offense sooner in the year than last year.”
Liberty aiming for state
First-year coach Justin Else already has the Lady Warriors setting their gaze toward the state championship, and they haven’t even played a game.
“We want to compete in our district night in and night out, and we want to make a run to state championship game,” Else said. “We break [out of huddles] on ‘Beat [the opponent]’ and finish with ‘Take state.’ Our determination and our effort is going to get us there.”
Intrasquad competition is shaping up, and Else is excited at how his team is rounding out.
“We’re in the middle of our tryouts right now and we’re competing well,” Else said. “I’m excited to see how our season is going to turn out. We are at a high level of competition and the young players are learning how to step up, and it will make our program better overall.”
Along with a transition to a new head coach, the Lady Warriors also are making a change with their offensive structure.
“We are going to rely on our setter distributing the ball,” Else said. “We are going to be running a different offense than teams are used to seeing us run. We used to run five hitters and one setter.”
The Lady Warriors will look to improve on last year’s 3-16 record, and senior setter Olivia Asprey will facilitate the offense. Seniors Hanna Elsey and Shelby Westbrook will be on the other end of Asprey’s sets, with senior Emily Howard acting as the defensive anchor.
Calvary after repeat success
Winning a TAPPS Class 2A championship last season, Jennifer Bramlett capitalized in her first year as Calvary’s coach, and she says this year’s team has what it takes to get back to the state final.
“Calvary kids are a pretty amazing group of athletes,” Bramlett said. “I would like to make another run. I think they would too, and I think it’s entirely possible. We’ve got some young girls that are stepping up. Aubrey Armstrong has a state championship under her belt, and she’s a great example of being able to step up.”
Bramlett said she looks to her outside hitters if the Lady Lions are going to repeat last year’s success.
“We’ve got senior outside hitter Anna Hollingshead,” Bramlett said. “She started for us all year last year. She’s consistent, but she’s super offensively. Last year, I think we had three main threats with our kids stepping in around them — her and Madeline Mayer.”
Bramlett and the Lady Lions know that this year could be harder, with teams in their district always improving.
“I think their work ethic has shown that,” Bramlett said. “It’s hard to tell in TAPPS because things can change so quickly and schools can add players, so we are taking everyone very seriously. They are a very humble group of girls anyway, so they aren’t taking anything lightly.”
Staff writers Ben Baby and Patrick Hayslip contributed to this report.