A year ago the Weatherford Lady Kangaroos and Aledo Ladycats shared the championships in their respective districts. Nice, though it may be, they'd just as soon be alone at the top of the final standings this season.
The Lady Roos and Keller finished tied atop the District 3-6A standings a year ago, each at 10-2. Keller won a playoff to be the top seed in the postseason and advanced to the Region I semifinals, while second-seeded Weatherford was upset by Arlington Lamar in the first round after leading their match two games to none.
"We learned from that match that we have to play every single point, that we cannot let down, no matter how good we're playing," said senior Lond Austin-Roark, the district's Hitter MVP last season.
"It was a tough lesson, but it's helping us this season."
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The entire Weatherford team is back from last season, including senior Kaitlyn Rogers, the Setter MVP of the district.
"You can't control the next four points, but you can control the next point," first-year Weatherford coach Nick Gay said, giving his take on the old point-at-a-time scenario.
Weatherford (33-6 last season) was making its first playoff appearance since 2009. While it remains to be seen how that returning experience will factor into the district race, in predistrict there was clear evidence of the benefits.
The Lady Roos (27-5 this season at press time) played in three of the state's elite tournaments, posting high finishes in each. Their best effort was a runner-up finish at the prestigious Volleypallooza in Leander.
Weatherford also climbed to as high as fifth in the state in the Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) state rankings. Inexplicably, they fell to 11th (at press time) despite not having lost since the aforemention Volleypallooza final on Aug. 26.
Gay said while a state ranking is nice, ultimately how a team is remembered is how far they advanced in the postseason.
"We don't want to be at our potential now. We want to be there at the end of district and the playoffs," he said.
The Lady Roos opened District 3-6A play last night at Keller Central. The Lady Chargers have reached the playoffs five straight seasons, including the second round last season.
Elsewhere from the district, Keller looks to be the Lady Kangaroos' main threat again. The Lady Indians returned the district's Newcomer of the Year, sophomore Jayden Nembhard and will be making a push for a fourth straight postseason spot.
Keller Fossil Ridge is coming off a bidistrict appearance, its first playoff berth since 1999. After back-to-back postseason appearances, Abilene missed a year ago, and Haltom hasn't reached the playoffs since 2008.
The Aledo Ladycats are in their first season being coached by Claire Gay, wife of the Weatherford coach. At press time her team was 21-11 and ranked 12th in the state in Class 5A by the TGCA (at press time), including a district-opening win at home against Brewer this past Friday.
Last season Aledo and Boswell tied atop the final standings with identical 13-1 league records. They split their matches against each other, ironically each winning on the other's court.
They held no playoff, however. Each advanced to the postseason and went deep, Aledo reaching the Region I final and Boswell the semifinals. Both were ousted by eventual state champion Amarillo.
The Ladycats have been going to the playoffs since long before any of the players in the current program were born. They won or shared a district title in 19 of the 20 seasons the now retired Kathy Goings was the coach.
To do so this season will not be an easy task. They are one of three teams in the district to be state-ranked. Boswell was 14th at press time and Justin Northwest was tied for 25th.
"State rankings are just a number," Gay said. "We play every team as if they are ranked higher than us."
Boswell's Lady Pioneers return three of the district's superlative award winners. Senior Kailyn Gilbreath with former Aledo standout Madison Goings, now at Oregon State. Senior Natalie Smith was Defensive MVP, and senior Kylie Courtney was Setter MVP.
"Boswell and Aledo have a good little rivalry," Gay said. "Boswell will always be tough."
Northwest reached the area round last season, the first time they reached the playoffs since 2013 and the first time the Lady Texans advanced since 2005.
Chisholm Trail was the district's other playoff team last season, reaching bidistrict, the team's second playoff appearance in its short history.
Azle and Saginaw last made playoff appearances in 2013, Brewer's last was 1999, and Haslet Eaton has yet to make the playoffs since opening in 2015.
Eaton does feature the 2016 Newcomer of the Year in district, Fabiola Rivera.
The Poolville Lady Monarchs (9-7 overall) opened play in District 9-2A at Newcastle at press time. It was a matchup of teams that are used to being in the postseason, but then in this district almost every team is used to playing beyond the regular season.
Because in volleyball the University Interscholastic League combines Class A and 2A teams in 2A districts during the regular season and sends them to their respective classifications in the postseason, seven of the eight teams in the league reached the playoffs last season.
Perrin-Whitt (last playoff appearance in 2012) is the only team that missed the playoffs in 2016.
Poolville reached the playoffs for a sixth time in seven seasons, advancing to the second round in Class 2A for a second straight year. Newcastle reached Class A bidistrict, a sixth postseason berth in eight seasons.
In 2A, Chico reached the Region II semifinals, their third straight playoff appearance, while Alvord and Ranger qualified for bidistrict.
In Class A, Graford made it to the Region I quarterfinals and Bryson advanced to area. It was the fifth consecutive season in which Bryson reached at least the second round.
Poolville returned two of the league's superlative award winners. Senior Billie Roberts was MVP, and sophomore Trinity Johnson was Newcomer of the Year.