Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Volleyball state playoffs preview: Coppell, Lovejoy chasing repeat crowns
Coppell and Lovejoy took different paths to a state championship last year.
Lovejoy swept its way through the Class 3A bracket and didn’t lose a set until the finals, where it beat Abilene Wylie in five. The championship was its fourth in a row.
Coppell, which was a district runner-up last year, had a little more trouble. It swept only two teams and was taken to five sets three times before winning its first 5A state title. Each new match was a gift, coach Julie Green said.
When the 2012 UIL volleyball playoffs begin Monday, neither team will be satisfied with anything less than another state title — no matter how it gets there.
“It would be a disappointment to go out any other way,” Coppell senior outside hitter Erica Bohannon said.
Coppell, ranked No. 6 in the state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, opens the playoffs against Grapevine at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Trophy Club Byron Nelson. Lovejoy, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, will face the winner between Hallsville and Mount Pleasant at 8 p.m. Monday at Wills Point.
Coppell (41-3) scraped its way through a challenging District 5-5A. It lost its first match to 2010 state champion Hebron, then won nine in a row to claim the district crown.
Coppell’s only other losses this year came against No. 1 San Antonio Reagan and No. 2 Southlake Carroll. Green’s confident her team is battle-tested and ready for the playoffs.
The same wasn’t always true for Lovejoy coach Ryan Mitchell. In its first season as a 4A member, Lovejoy went 41-4 overall and 14-0 in district. All of its district wins were sweeps, and Mitchell worried that his team was underprepared.
His fears were largely alleviated Friday, though, when Lovejoy defeated Colleyville Heritage — ranked No. 3 in Class 5A — in a practice match.
“Our goal is always to be the best volleyball team,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter what ‘A’ we are. We want to be the best volleyball team in the Metroplex, and to do that you’ve got to beat the very best.”
Mitchell and Green have more college-level talent on the court at one time than many coaches see throughout their careers.
Coppell’s starting lineup will be spread out across the country next year. Bohannon is committed to Tulsa, Chiaka Ogbogu is committed to Texas and Cassidy Pickrell is headed to UC-Irvine. Sophomore setter Kylie Pickrell is being recruited heavily, and she recently visited defending national champ UCLA, Green said.
“We’re in a better position than we were last year,” Ogbogu said. “And expectations are a lot greater. Now we know what it takes to get there.”
Ebony Nwanebu leads Lovejoy with 511 kills. The 6-4 outside hitter is committed to Southern California. Mallorie Puckett has added 314 kills and 430 digs, and setter Shannon Connell has 844 assists.
Lovejoy, which has been ranked No. 1 since the preseason, didn’t surprise anybody by winning a state title last year. The only surprise this season would be if it fails to win a fifth.
“We’re not going to surprise anybody, and we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Mitchell said. “We have to be aware of the opposite. A team could sneak up on us and get us because they really want to beat us.”
Follow David Just on Twitter at @DavidJustDMN.
Teams to watch
Southlake Carroll: The top team in SportsDay’s rankings for much of the 2012 season, Carroll went unbeaten in District 4-5A. Carroll has also been playoff-tested, with quality wins against Plano, Coppell and Flower Mound. It should have little trouble exceeding its disappointing area exit of 2011.
Colleyville Heritage: Heritage ended the 6-5A season on a low note, falling to Euless Trinity for its only district loss. It has been a mainstay in the top five of the state and area rankings, though, and will be hungry to improve upon its area appearance last year.
Flower Mound: Few teams have played a tougher regular-season schedule than Flower Mound. It lost matches to Southlake Carroll, Coppell, McKinney Boyd and Colleyville Heritage but beat almost everyone else on the slate. It lost in the first round last year but has the talent for a deep run.
Highland Park: Coach Michael Dearman’s squad failed to reach the regional quarterfinals for the first time in his eight years last season. His ninth year should be different. Highland Park went unbeaten in District 10-4A and has a favorable path to regionals.
McKinney Boyd: Last year’s state runner-up is primed for another deep run. And like defending state champion Coppell, it opened its district season this year with a loss and won out its remaining schedule. Boyd is among the favorites in Region II.
Players to watch
Regina Tillis, Rockwall-Heath: Tillis led Heath to the 4A regional finals last year. She continued to dominate in Class 5A, leading the area with 551 kills. Tillis is committed to LSU.
Jordan Anderson, Flower Mound: Anderson is among the area leaders with 5.21 kills per game. She has 531 total kills this year to go with 365 digs. She’s committed to West Virginia.
Kaitlyn Granger, Arlington: The Stephen F. Austin pledge led Arlington with 432 kills, and she leads the area with 524 digs.
Micaya White, Frisco Centennial: The sophomore leads all classifications in the area with 579 kills this season. She also leads Class 4A with 82 service aces.
Micaela Spann, Hebron: The Oklahoma pledge was second in Class 5A with 103 blocks. She also led Hebron with 460 kills.