Gatesville’s seniors played with chips on their shoulders, but by the time the season was over, they were each receiving congratulatory pats on the back.
After losing a wealth of talent from a team coming off consecutive trips to the regional semifinals, external expectations for the Lady Hornets were tempered.
To Gatesville’s senior class, however, opportunity was waiting.
Ashley Cook, Megan Chambers, Paige Chambers, Lauren Nichols and Madeleine Lamar proved critics wrong as they helped lead Gatesville to a 35-6 record and finished one step shy of their predecessors’ best postseason showing, falling to Stephenville in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals.
The District 8-3A coaches recognized the group’s efforts as each player earned a spot on the 8-3A All-District list. Middle hitter Cook and libero Megan Chambers received the highest recognition, receiving the offensive and defensive player of the year awards, respectively.
“They had a lot to prove, and they felt like they had a lot to prove,” said Gatesville coach Rickey Phillips. “We’ve been in the playoffs for 10 years in a row, and that group did everything they could to make sure our postseason streak stayed intact.”
Cook led the team with 219 kills and successfully delivered 92 percent of her swings and 48 percent of her kills, to go along with 14 aces. Additionally, she finished the season with 53 blocks and 26 digs.
“She was always double-teamed, and, in half of our district games, she was triple-teamed,” Phillips said. “I think that speaks a lot about her. … We ran her all over the floor. To avoid that double team, she had to get out of the middle sometimes, and she worked like a dog to get away from that block and get a one-on-one swing.”
Megan Chambers posted 151 digs and completed 82 percent of her passes en route to the defensive player of the year honor.
“As good as Ashley was for our offense, Megan was equally good defensively for us,” Phillips said. “As a libero, you don’t get as much recognition back there as you would as a hitter or blocker, but she did it, and she is one of the best defensive players I’ve ever been around.”
Outside hitter Lauren Nichols (147 kills, 36 aces, 84 digs) and setter Paige Chambers (357 assists, 41 digs, 16 aces, 12 blocks) earned first-team honors.
“Paige came in and replaced a three-year starter in her first and only year as a varsity setter and did a great job. She was the captain of our offense,” Phillips said. “Nichols was the same way. This was her first year to be on the floor and never come off, and she played in all aspects of the game; hitting, she’s a very tough server, good passer, and she was always showing up wherever the ball was.”
Lampasas (9-22 overall) also landed several players on the all-district list. Senior outside hitter Jenna Jenkins was placed on the second team following a standout season under first-year head coach Kecia Davis, while senior outside hitter Shayna Perry and sophomore Blake Webb each received honorable mentions.
“(Jenkins’ and Perry’s) leadership was big for me since I was new here,” Davis said. “I wanted things done a certain way, and it was a different way than what they were probably used to. They didn’t mind changing, and they helped the other girls do what I was asking them to do.
“(Webb) was one of my captains, and her skills are going to improve next year. She is just a hard-working person.”
ALL-DISTRICT 8-3A TEAM
MVP — Sam Riman, Sr., Liberty Hill
Offensive Player of the Year — Ashley Cook, Sr., Gatesville
Defensive Player of the Year — Megan Chambers, Sr., Gatesville
Newcomer of the Year — Amanda Morgan, Jr., Llano
Setter of the Year — Kallie Perrin, Jr., Liberty Hill
Coach of the Year — Gretchen Peterson, Liberty Hill
Cassidy Connolly, Burnet; Emily Philpott, Liberty Hill; Paige Chambers, Gatesville; Lauren Nichols, Gatesville;
Jessica Wunderlich, Llano; Madi Sharp, Liberty Hill; Peyton Redmond, Liberty Hill; Cierra Jordan, Llano.
Cassandra Mendez, Brownwood; Jaycie Pluenneke, Liberty Hill; Payton Walker, Liberty Hill; Jenna Jenkins, Lampasas;
Riley Scott, Burnet; Sarah Poe, Burnet; Danielle Lindley, Burnet; Lacey Redden, Llano; Cheyenne Swenson, Llano; Lexi Hall, Gatesville.