After Guyer and Trophy Club Nelson battled for a district championship last season, splitting their head-to-head meetings, it was the Denton Lady Broncos who knocked off Guyer and gave the Lady Bobcats the District 5-4A volleyball title.
That was an example of every game in district play being meaningful, and with parity expected in 5-4A this season after the two favorites — Guyer and Nelson — more of the same can be expected when district play begins Friday.
It won’t take long for the two perceived favorites to meet, as Guyer hosts Nelson on Tuesday, but both teams open district play Friday and can’t get caught looking ahead.
The Lady Wildcats (17-8) will open district play on the road at Wichita Falls before facing the Lady Bobcats.
“Every match is so critical,” Guyer coach Addie Mack said. “Just look at last year and the one loss we had against Denton that caused us to not be in that championship picture. I don’t want the girls to take any matches for granted. We’ll focus Friday solely on Wichita Falls and then we’ll prepare for Byron Nelson. I don’t want them to overlook any team we play against. It’s just a one-day-at-a-time mentality. We take them as they come.”
The Lady Wildcats have gotten a tremendous performance so far from four-year starting setter Madison Walford and have seen the emergence of a hitting threat in sophomore Emily Hill, who missed most of her freshman season with injuries. Mack also credited junior libero McKenzie Christopher for her recent play and as a big reason the Guyer defense has kept pace with its offense.
“There have been a slew of girls that have stepped up offensively and defensively,” Mack said. “I feel like we’re starting to work incredibly well together and mend offense and defense together to help us be successful in the long run.”
Denton and Lake Dallas seem poised to only get better as they hit district play. Both teams have gotten back the services of injured players who are key to their success.
For the Lady Broncos (9-10), three-year varsity standout Jade Akins has been injured for much of the season but is nearing 100 percent health, which will be a boost for coach Danielle Silva.
“We’re just getting her back into her groove,” Silva said. “We definitely want her to just sit and get healthy so we can utilize her during district.
“Having her on our team brings a threat offensively and defensively. We’re going to be a threat to any opponent. We’ll be OK without her, but we’ll definitely be a threat with her.”
In Akins’ absence, Silva said, she’s had great contributions from her other two captains, sophomore outside hitter Kenzie Dozier and junior setter/middle blocker Hannah Altman, who will be in the lineup when Denton opens up its district schedule at home against Wichita Falls Rider, which claimed the fourth playoff spot in 2012 behind the Lady Broncos.
“They’ve really stepped into the captain role and tried to refocus the team,” Silva said. “They understand that they have to step up in the absence of one of our key players and push the teammates around them to do the same.”
There might not be a more interesting team in the district than Lake Dallas.
Third-year coach Heather Van Noy watched as her team struggled mightily early in the nondistrict slate but recently has seen significant improvement with a high ceiling due to her team’s youth.
The Lady Falcons (7-16) start three freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors, and Van Noy pointed to Tuesday’s five-set loss to Frisco Lone Star as both a heartbreaker and a big encouragement.
The Lady Falcons led the fifth set 11-6 before falling to Lone Star, but Van Noy was pleased with her young team’s play.
“It was devastating, but at the same time I was really proud of how they played,” Van Noy said. “We’re getting better. The last two games in particular, against [Mansfield] Timberview and Lone Star, we’ve played hard. It’s just getting over that hump.
“I hate to blame the youth of it, but that’s part of it. We get to that point and we just can’t finish. We’re getting closer and closer. Once we break that barrier, I think we’ll be OK, and I think that’s coming soon.”
One of those freshman starters, Kambrie Gossett, returned from a three-week injury Tuesday to rack up a team-high 15 kills and should be in the lineup Friday when Lake Dallas opens district play against Fort Worth Brewer.
“We’re getting better at the right time,” Van Noy said. “Two weeks ago we were really struggling. We couldn’t find chemistry and [Gossett] was out for three weeks, and that hurt our confidence. It was nice to have her back.”
Van Noy said she believes the district is up for grabs like it was last season, when Rider and Wichita Falls tied for fourth place and needed a one-game playoff to determine the fourth seed.
“You start at 0-0 in district,” Van Noy said. “I try to stress that every year. Preseason is great, but overall, nothing matters until district. Everyone starts with a clean slate. That’s the glory of it. We’re starting the season over, and we’re starting on a really high note with the way we’re playing.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.