The theme within the Millsap School District this school year is "Millsap Rising." Nowhere is that more evident than within the Lady Bulldogs volleyball program.
Folks in Millsap are more excited about the Lady Bulldogs than they've been about any of the school's sports programs in some time. Yes, they still have the majority of a tough District 7-3A schedule ahead of them, but with a playoff berth locked up even before league play begins (more on that in a bit), they are already preparing for the postseason.
The Lady Bulldogs entered District 7-3A with perhaps the best predistrict record in team history (22-3). This includes winning the championship of two tournaments, the Lu Allen Memorial Tournament in Graham and the Dublin Varsity Tournament.
"The excitement about their success is permeating throughout the (school) district and it is capturing the attention of the surrounding area," Superintendent Deann Lee said. "We look forward to district play and are already making playoff plans."
Ironically, the Lady Bulldogs had their third consecutive postseason ticket punched even before league play began on Sept. 26 as only four teams are in the district (Millsap, Brock, Tolar and Peaster) following the departure of Fort Worth Harmony this season. However, first-year Millsap coach Courtney Haney believes her team is a playoff squad no matter how many teams are in the league.
"This year, we have strongly encouraged two things, mental toughness and family. I believe the thing that has been missing from Millsap volleyball for a very long time is the idea of being not just physically tough but mentally tough as well," Haney said. "We teach our kids to face adversity head-on and never make excuses, just learn from your mistakes and move on.
"We also have stressed how important it is to have each others' backs on and off the court. We do a lot of team bonding outside of games and tournaments, and we all practice together every single day, JV and varsity. We always say, 'We are not just teammates. We are sisters, we are family.'"
Haney is a Peaster product. She played for longtime Lady Greyhounds coach Diana French, who enjoyed much success, including three trips to the state tournament (1990, 1993, 2009) and a finals berth in 1993.
"She is a legend in Parker County for her coaching success, and most of what I have learned has come from her," said Haney, who also played at North Central Texas College and Midwestern State.
"This season means everything to me. It’s my number one priority and main focus," said junior outside hitter Alerah Turpin. "This is our last year with our only senior (outside hitter Briana Gray), so we can’t take anything for granted and we definitely can’t slack off."
The Lady Bulldogs began the season 18-0 before dropping matches to Bridgeport (4A), Windthorst (state-ranked in 2A) and Graham (4A). They recently dropped their district opener to Brock, No. 2 in the state in 3A entering league play.
The district also features Peaster, No. 16 in the state in 3A with back-to-back state tournament appearances (including the finals last season). Also, Tolar is a perennial playoff team.
"I respect the state rankings but honestly, I have not looked at them this season. I am more concerned with what we are doing here in Millsap," she said. "We might not be ranked but that does not bother us because we know when people see us play, they will remember who we are and what we can do."
People are definitely paying attention, Haney said.
"The excitement and support we have received has been unbelievable. Our fans have been a tremendous support system for our girls this season," she said. "The girls are showing a new level of love for the game because they are starting to see what they can actually do. They have set new goals for themselves as individuals, and as a team and they are striving for perfection with every touch of the ball."
Said junior setter Madison Johns: "This season I can't wait to advance as far as I know our team can go. We are capable of so many things and we are ready to prove it."
Not only is Haney's team enjoying a fine season this year, the future looks solid. The roster this season includes two freshmen, seven juniors, and one senior.
"The future for Millsap volleyball looks very bright because we have an extremely talented group of juniors, a strong freshmen class, and a strong incoming freshmen class next year," Haney said. "Our JV is mostly freshmen with three sophomores and two juniors, and I am looking forward to see how much they accomplish and improve this year to prepare them for varsity next year."