Walk the Plank: Lady Pirates shanghaied by Lady Leopards
If Lovejoy volleyball is able to make it to the Class 4A State Tournament next month in Garland, they might look back at the past two weeks as a key reason why.
"We went through some tough things internally over the last couple weeks and it was hard at the time," said Ryan Mitchell, Lovejoy head coach. "But the girls really dug in, fixed the aspects of our game that they needed to and we have a better product on the court because of it."
Denison and Wylie can attest to that.
Lovejoy, which remains No. 1 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A poll, wrapped up the first half of District 13-4A with a decisive win last Tuesday over Denison (25-11, 25-10, 25-1) and Friday against Wylie (25-9, 25-10, 25-10).
The former match was particularly notable for its third-set score.
The Lady Leopards won the first seven points of Game 3 against Denison on the serve of junior Molly Lacey. After a side out, Lovejoy reeled off the next 18 points with a side out and 17 consecutive points on the serve of senior Brooke Ray to finish the 25-1 win.
"Yeah, that is the longest run I've seen," Mitchell said. "Denison was struggling with their serve-receive, but Brooke was serving really well too. She had a couple short to start and then a few deep angle ones as well. You hate to see that for the other team because you know they are working hard and trying their best, but at the same time, our girls are too and we want to encourage them to continue that."
Lovejoy continued its role Friday against fellow 6-0 district squad Wylie.
Though the teams were tied in the 13-4A standings, the Lady Leopards wasted little time establishing which team was the class of the district.
"We played awesome in that match; best we had all district," Mitchell said. "We came in knowing Wylie was the second-best team and they played at a faster pace than some of the other teams we've seen, but our girls were up for the challenge."
Lovejoy excelled on the serve with 15 aces against just six errors.
"We finally got that percentage we wanted," Mitchell said. "We served aggressive and didn't really miss either."
Lovejoy remained strong once the ball was in play with seniors Ebony Nwanebu and Lucy Tweedie on the front line together for their first full match.
"Ebony was on the court for two games against Denison and then all three against Wylie," Mitchell said. "We instantly get better when she gets on the court and then when you have Ebony paired with Lucy, there is definitely some energy there."
Lovejoy's offense had sagged a bit on the right side earlier in the season, but having Nwanebu and Tweedie on the court against Wylie put pressure on both sides of the pin during a match that was never in doubt.
The pair of 6-plus-footers also paid dividends defensively while senior Bailey Martin chipped in with a myriad of digs.
"Those two can definitely provide a better block," Mitchell said. "Which of course makes things easier on our back row."
Lovejoy kicked off the second half of district Tuesday and improved to 8-0 in 13-4A with a sweep of Sherman (25-9, 25-5, 25-6) to complete its four-match homestand. The Lady Leopards next play at 5:30 p.m. Friday on the road versus Greenville.
"We've got to make it fun now," Mitchell said, "and make sure the girls enjoy these next four weeks."
That shouldn't be a problem for a team that just addressed any lingering issues.
"One of the reasons we worked so hard on ourselves is that we didn't just want to focus on the short term, we wanted to look at things that could hurt us during a playoff run," Mitchell said. "Every team has a defining moment and I'm not saying more issues won't arise down the road, but the good teams fix their issues.
"I think we've been able to do that and the girls are playing very well right now."