Recap of Leopard volleyball season

Despite Leopard volleyball’s state loss, the team had a season of changes, tribulations, and success


Stu Mair

Avery Arellano (10) walks off the court with Lexi Smith following the game. This game was the last chance for the team’s seniors to earn another state title. This left emotions running wild with a 2nd place finish at the State Tournament.

Kevin Davis, Sports Edtior

Rewind to August of 2015, the Lady Leopards started the season heading into a very competitive Pearland tournament as the number one overall seed.

“I think we had a good tournament season,” head volleyball coach Jason Nicholson said. “Pearland was the kickoff. We didn’t finish as highly as we had hoped. Being the top seed I think that everybody had a target on our back.”

After finishing the Pearland tournament with only one loss, the team would then play in the Texas Open Tournament in Allen and the PSA tournament in Plano.

“We finished just okay in all three tournaments, maybe not as high as we thought we would, but we obviously found some things about ourselves that we needed to work on.” Nicholson said.

Moving forward into the pre-district part of the season, the Leopards knew that they had some big loads to handle before district play including 6A powerhouse Southlake Carroll, JJ Pearce, and Rockwall.

“We scheduled a very difficult pre-season schedule, and the girls responded,” Nicholson said. “We had a couple kids having to play some roles early in the season that they weren’t accustomed to; which really helped up in the long run, because they were able to round out their game.”

As the team progressed into district play, the Leopards knew who their top competition would be: the McKinney Lions, who beat the Leopards at the Texas Open Tournament, and district rivals, the Prosper Eagles.

“As we moved into district we kind of knew our biggest hurdles would be Prosper and McKinney,” Nicholson said.

In the first round of district play, the Leopards survived a scare against the McKinney Lions as the two team battled it out in a match that would eventually reach five sets.

“They came out and took it to us a little bit early,” Nicholson said. “Then we were able to scrape out a five set win, which I think woke us up a little bit.”

Overall, the Leopards finished district play with a 2-0 record against the Lions, and a 2-1 record against the Eagles. After the loss to the Eagles, the seniors on the team decided to get together and create ideas to make the the team closer as a whole.

“After we lost to Prosper, the seniors started talking about senior leadership and what we were going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” senior Jordan Fate said. “So we decided to start doing a Bible study with Lexie and Ellie’s moms.”

The Bible study provided a place for the team to come together and start to bond off the court.

“We didn’t have that good of team chemistry throughout preseason, and then when we started Bible study, it brought our team a lot closer,” Fate said. “We started to slowly see changes on the court, because we weren’t really meshing as a team before that, and then we slowly started to see everyone become comfortable with each other on the court”

Bonding as a team after the loss against seemed to be the solution and turning point to the Leopard’s season as the team would go on to win 15 games in a row including two wins over the Eagles.

“Prosper took it to us a little bit in the first round of district, but we were able to change the tides a little bit when they came to our place,” Nicholson said. “In the third game we ended up playing great against against them, and ended up taking the top seed going into playoffs.”

Momentum began to pick up for the Leopards entering the playoffs. With sweeps over Frisco Independence and Woodrow Wilson in the first two rounds, the team would face their first tough matchup against Frisco in the regional quarterfinals. Ultimately, the Leopards would win that match 3-1, but junior Bailey Downing left the game with an ankle injury that would put her out for the rest of the post season.

“The timing of Bailey wasn’t good with her getting hurt in that Frisco match,” Nicholson said. “Not being able to get her back for state was huge. She played phonomenal in the state finals last year. She was a big reason why we were all able to walk away with our state championship last year.”

Freshman Rachel Langs stepped up and provided a replacement source of defense for Downing.

“She came in and played exceptionally well,” Nicholson said. “Although I think we were limited offensively, her blocking was phenomenal. She played great but, not having Bailey obviously changed what we were able to do offensively.”

Three sweeps in a row followed the the four set game against Frisco for the Leopards. After wins over Mansfield Summit, Frisco Wakeland, and George Ranch, the Leopards found themselves in the state finals for the seventh time in program history, and the team wasn’t necessarily surprised.

“It’s one of those years I think knowing we were supposed to be successful based on our success of last year, there were a lot of peaks and valleys,” Nicholson said. “Our play was great at times, and it was a little sloppy at times, which and won the first set. However, two late rallies by Dripping Springs in the second and third set gave the Tigers the 2-1 lead in sets over the Leopards.

“We had a chance to put them down 2-0, and we let them get a lot of energy with an eight point run in the second set. All of the sudden they had new life,” Nicholson said. “In set three, same thing. We are up 22-19 and we let them go on a five point run. Both those games I think ended up being the deciding factor.”

Bouncing back from losses in two consecutive sets, the Leopards went on to win set four. Unfortunately, in set five, Dripping Springs would have the upper hand. The Tigers won the set 15-12. Nicholson made it clear to the team that not much time would pass until the underclassmen got back in the gym to prepare for the 2016 season.

“We have already started offseason,” Nicholson said. “The girls understand my mentality, we are going to get in the gym. When we get back to the fall, our goal is to be back where we were this year.”

One of the first things Nicholson is focusing on is figuring out is how to replace such a strong senior class.

“Obviously losing Jordan Fate, a three year varsity setter, also Sarah Langs will hurt,” Nicholson said. “Their awards show that they have done a ton for this program. We also have three other seniors that were huge that we will miss.”

As the team progresses into offseason, Nicholson will make it clear that they will outwork any other team in the state.

“At any point in our program if we aren’t winning a state championship it isn’t because we didn’t work harder than the other team,” Nicholson said.