Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Girls athletic programs at Lovejoy have budding tradition of excellence and softball is no exception
The Lovejoy volleyball team bred a culture of success when it won the first of its five consecutive state championships in November 2008.
From there the school spawned state tournament-caliber teams throughout its girls athletic programs. Seven years after opening its doors, Lovejoy has won seven team state championships in girls sports — five in volleyball and two in cross country. Lovejoy has also had six girls win individual state titles — four in track, one in cross country and one in swimming.
It can add another championship this weekend when its softball team debuts at the state tournament in Austin.
“I thought it was a gold mine waiting to happen here,” Lovejoy ISD athletic director Jim Bob Puckett said. “I expected this to happen, but I don’t know if I expected it this quickly.”
Puckett was the longtime cross country and track coach at nearby Allen for nearly two decades, so he was familiar with the talent-rich area.
Lovejoy draws students primarily from Lucas and Fairview with a smaller portion coming from Wylie and Allen. Most of its students would attend Allen if the school hadn’t opened in 2006.
Allen experienced recent girls athletic success in volleyball (state finalist, 2003), softball (regional quarterfinalist, 2004) and soccer (regional finalist, 2004 and 2007). Much of that success seems to have transferred to Lovejoy, which finished first or second in its Class 4A district this year in soccer, basketball, volleyball and softball. Allen, which competes in Class 5A, suffered losing district seasons in all of those sports.
“We started winning very early here, and all the programs have gotten on board,” said Lovejoy volleyball coach Ryan Mitchell, who doubles as the girls athletic coordinator. “The girls want to win, and now they’re expected to win.”
Lovejoy sent two girls to this year’s state track meet: Katie Ruhala took sixth in the 3,200 meters and Lauren Sturm finished fifth in pole vault. The girls soccer team matched a program-best by reaching the regional quarterfinals, and the girls basketball team — two years removed from a state berth — advanced to the area round.
The softball team had been on the cusp of breaking through. In 2010 it reached the 3A Region II semifinals, and in 2011 it advanced to the Region II final. Both seasons ended with losses to Celina.
This year, opponents have struggled to match Lovejoy’s prolific offense. The Lady Leopards are averaging 8.3 runs in nine playoff games. They’re 8-1 during that stretch.
“We tend to have a couple innings where we break out and will score five or more runs,” Lovejoy coach Amanda Douglas said after her team used a seven-run sixth inning to beat Frisco Centennial in the regional semifinals. “It is always a good momentum builder for the remainder of the game.”
Puckett credits much of the school’s success to retaining the same coaching staffs. The girls cross country, softball, volleyball and soccer teams have yet to experience a head coaching change. Basketball, which is on its fifth coach in seven years, is the exception.
Also notable is how few of its girls athletes compete in multiple sports. Mitchell believes Lovejoy’s success is more impressive because of how many girls compete.
“If you had the same talented kids doing everything you might understand it,” Mitchell said. “There would be pockets of good classes that come through. But by and large these girls are in their own programs.”
And in a class of their own.
Follow David Just on Twitter at @DavidJustDMN.