Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Lovejoy's quest for 5th volleyball crown begins
Lovejoy moves up to 4A after four straight championships in 3A
LUCAS — Peer pressure is a useful tool for the Lovejoy volleyball team.
“There are expectations and tradition here,” coach Ryan Mitchell said. “It’s kind of a built-in peer pressure. Everyone else has won before us, and we’re not going to be the ones that lose.”
Last year, Lovejoy became the first Class 3A volleyball team in Texas history to win four consecutive state championships. A move up to Class 4A during the off-season did little to extinguish the expectations for a fifth.
The Lady Leopards open the season at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Red Oak as the top-ranked team in 4A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association.
Only two UIL teams — Class A Plains and Windthorst — have won five straight titles. Windthorst holds the record for consecutive championships, with six in a row from 1997 to 2002.
Mitchell has been scheduling 4A and 5A nondistrict competition during each of his seven seasons, so a tougher slate of opponents won’t be anything new for Lovejoy.
“The target on us just got really big,” senior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu said. “All of these 4A teams are going to come after us.”
Nwanebu was fifth among all Dallas-area volleyball players last year with 525 kills to go with 130 blocks. She gave an oral commitment to Southern California several months before her junior season.
Mitchell will be asking the 6-4 Nwanebu to fill the leadership role vacated by Andie Malloy, SportsDay’s all-area player of the year in 2011.
“In crunch time, everyone knew the ball was going to Andie,” Mitchell said. “This year, it’s going to have to be [a case of] we know the ball is going to Ebony.”
A solid supporting cast includes all-state libero Brooke Ray, setter Shannon Connell, who has committed to Stephen F. Austin, and outside hitter Mallorie Puckett — all seniors with nothing but championship experience.
“You just want to go out with a bang and win another championship,” Connell said.
Monday — First day for matches
Oct. 29 — UIL playoffs begin
Nov. 2-3 — TAPPS state tournament in San Antonio
Nov. 15-17 — UIL state tournament at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland