By Kevin Posival
Harker Heights Herald
There are holes to fill, but there are always holes to fill — on every team, in every district.
Copperas Cove replaces District 12-5A and Daily Herald All-Area MVP Amy Rosenbaum (Baylor), but the Lady Dawgs, who reached the second round of the playoffs last season, remain a favorite to win newly-named District 8-5A, a new-and-improved Central Texas version of 12-5A.
The district would be Cove’s to lose, if not for the addition of two-time defending District 8-4A champion Waco Midway.
While defending 12-5A champion A&M Consolidated was shipped with Bryan to the Conroe-based District 14-5A, Midway and Killeen moved up from 4A into 8-5A, making no road to a district title or even a playoff spot an easy journey.
Killeen reached the playoffs for the second straight year; Harker Heights probably would’ve made the playoffs if not for a late-season collapse that rivalled Ellison’s late-season surge. The Lady Eagles, though, lost a play-in game to Temple after both teams finished the regular season tied with identical overall and district records.
Bree Holz-Gonzales, after leading the Salado Lady Eagles to four straight playoff appearances, took the Tem-Cats to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 in her first year as Temple’s head coach.
Rachel Lee picked up where Holz-Gonzales left off in Salado, stretching the Lady Eagles’ postseason streak to five straight years. Gatesville, meanwhile, made the regional tournament for a second straight year.
Gatesville won 37 games and went to the regional semifinals behind Glynna Johnson, Kaitlin Poe and Skye Truss — three players the Hornets have to replace. Moving on from last season began with two-a-days looking for players to fill those voids. Filling those empty district playoff spots begins with season-openers Monday and Tuesday.
Here’s a look at each of the area teams and how they look going into the year:
- Last season: 15-15, 5-9 12-5A
- Outlook: The Lady Knights are still seeking to break through into the top four seeds following a disappointing .500 showing last season. If they’re going to do it, this could be Heights’ year with eight returning starters, including four 6-footers. Leading the charge up front are 6-1 Shantraie Rodriguez, 6-0 Deysia Burden, 6-0 Anjane Janda and her 6-2 sister Kathleen Janda.
- Player to watch: Anjane Janda, sr., middle blocker — The three-year letterman will join 6-2 sister Kathleen Janda and Rodriguez to form one of the area’s biggest front rows.
- Last season: 5-31 overall, 1-13 12-5A
- Outlook: Stacy Meyers replaces Justeen Coulson, who finished her four years at Belton with a 64-87 record, but experienced a tough go of it in 2011. Meyers returns nine players from last season’s team, which should improve with experience. However, without a player taller than 6 feet, the Lady Tigers could struggle at the net.
- Player to Watch: Brienne Brown, jr., outside hitter — Brown was a second team District 12-5A selection last season as a sophomore. She is expected to contribute on the front line for the Lady Tigers this season.
- Last season: 26-10, 7-3 25-3A; third seed; bi-district round loss
- Outlook: In the first year under new coach Rachel Lee, the Lady Eagles again defied the odds and made a fourth-straight playoff appearance. Despite the graduation of its front line, including 6-footers Carling Urben and Kirstie McGillick, Salado returns several key contributors like libero Jenna Franz, the defending District 25-3A Defensive Player of the Year, and all-district first-teamer Sarah Toler.
- Player to watch: Sarah Toler, sr., outside hitter — The All-District 25-3A first team front row player will be counted to shoulder more of the scoring load after more than 500 kills graduated.
- Last season: 33-10, 12-2 12-5A, second seed; area round playoff loss
- Outlook: On the bright side, Copperas Cove no longer has to deal with the lone team responsible for blemishing their district record last season. On the other hand, the Lady Bulldawgs must now move on without 2011 District 12-5A MVP Amy Rosenbaum.
After suffering their only two district losses against A&M Consolidated last season, Copperas Cove returns four starters to an experienced roster with two underclassmen. But the losses of setter Rosenbaum, Claire Creamer and Andrea Hurt leave significant voids the Lady Bulldawgs hope to fill by the time district play begins.
- Player to watch: Qiana Canete, jr., middle blocker — On the heels of being named all-district newcomer of the year as a sophomore, Canete is eager to take the next step in her high school career and become a district MVP candidate. In 2011, she tallied 328 kills, 185 blocks and 56 aces.
- Last season: 17-22, 7-7 12-5A, tied for fourth; lost play-in game to Temple
- Outlook: The Lady Eagles nearly did it last season, turning a late district surge into a play-in opportunity with Temple. Second-year Ellison coach William De Gracia is sure to be hoping a front line that features tiny but talented Kortni Taylor and 6-footer Kaitlyn Shearer can help the Lady Eagles shake things up even more this year.
- Player to watch: Kaitlyn Shearer, sr., middle blocker — After missing much of last season with an injury, the heavy-hitting 6-footer is expected to be a dominant force up front for the Lady Eagles.
- Last Season: 11-21 overall, 1-13 27-2A
- Outlook: The Lady Buffaloes started off last season 10-8, but a slew of injuries set them back in district play. Brett Gola takes over the head coaching duties for Joanna Hensley, who stepped down to pursue her master’s degree.
Player to Watch: Haley Pluenneke, sr., setter — Pluenneke was all over the court for Florence last season, picking up nearly 100 digs, kills and assists.
- Last season: 37-5, 9-1 District 19-3A, first seed; regional semifinal loss
- Outlook: Gatesville is looking to increase its consecutive trips to the playoffs to double digits this season — all under head coach Rickey Phillips. Although the Hornets always seem to find a way to replenish the roster, this year could prove more difficult than most to adjust. Glynna Johnson has departed for Northwestern State after being selected as the unanimous District 19-3A MVP last season.
- Player to Watch: Megan Chambers, sr., defensive specialist. Chambers, one of the few returnees, will be counted on to hold the backline for the Hornets.
- Last season: 13-20, 5-5 8-4A, third-seed; first-round playoff loss
- Outlook: The Lady Roos move up to 5A following back-to-back playoff appearances in 4A. Led by all-district senior setter Esha Atkins, Killeen expects to compete in District 8-5A but must overcome inconsistency issues if it is to emerge from the pack of teams fighting for the third and fourth playoff seeds behind Waco Midway and Copperas Cove.
- Player to watch: Esha Atkins, sr. setter — The versatile 4-year letterman and 8-4A first-team pick led the team with 228 assists in district last season but is also a capable hitter.
- Last season: 15-20, 2-8 25-3A, missed playoffs.
- Outlook: Following the departure of former head coach Beth Rutland, who stepped away from the team in order to have a baby, Lampasas struggled. After inheriting the team, Rutland quickly turned the program around in her second season by snapping a long playoff drought in 2010.
- Player to watch: Jenna Jenkins, sr., outside hitter — Despite being hired less than two months ago, Kecia Davis is impressed by what she has seen from Jenkins, taking note of Jenkins’ determination to improve and her ability to lead the younger players.
- Last season: 13-20, 2-12 12-5A
- Outlook: The offseason move of senior Hailee Showers will be a huge loss for the Lady Grey Wolves, especially in a more competitive District 8-5A without A&M Consolidated and Bryan. But Shoemaker is moving on.
With Teara Roberson and a handful of other returners from last year’s team, the Lady Grey Wolves still believe they can continue moving the program forward and will be a part of the playoff race one way or another.
- Player to watch: Tearra Roberson, sr., outside hitter — Roberson, an all-district honorable mention last season, is also a three-time regional qualifier in track and an example of Shoemaker’s recognizable speed and athleticism.
- Last season: 18-22, 7-7 12-5A, fourth-seed; first-round playoff loss
- Outlook: The Tem-Cats reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 following a sweep of Ellison in a fourth-place play-in match after the two squads finished the regular season tied with identical overall (17-22) and district (7-7) records. That was in former Salado coach Bree Holz-Gonzales’ first year. She has a handful of honorable mentions returning and a more established program going into her second season at Temple.
- Player to watch: Amanda Goodman, sr., outside hitter — The daughter of Temple head softball and assistant volleyball coach Julie Goodman totalled 137 digs and 103 kills — both second on the team — in her first season on campus last season.