COPPERAS COVE — There is nowhere to hide. After entering last season intent to prove itself as one of District 8-5A’s elite teams, Copperas Cove eliminated any doubt by cruising to the program’s first undefeated district championship.
While the Lady Bulldawgs might have been underestimated by some last year, junior standout Mikayla Blount, who was named district co-newcomer of the year as a sophomore, knows her team is no longer capable of surprising the competition.
“It pushes us because we know that we have people coming after us,” the setter said. “We can’t give in and let the pressure (affect us).”
Teammate and defending district MVP Qiana Canete feels a similar burden on a personal level after producing her most successful individual season in 2012.
“I definitely feel pressure,” she said. “I feel like I have to show out a little bit more this year. It is going to be hard to top last year, but I’m going to try and get MVP again this year.”
Copperas Cove posted a 37-7 record last season, going 14-0 in district and winning 23 consecutive matches before falling to Flower Mound in straight sets in the area round of the playoffs.
Trying to knock the Lady Dawgs out of the top spot will be last year’s playoff teams Harker Heights, Belton — which increased its win total by eight from 2011 to 2012 — and Waco Midway, along with Ellison, which narrowly missed the playoffs last season.
The Lady Eagles made their first serious playoff chase in a long while, needing only to win their final two games of the season to force a play-in situation.
That did not happen.
Their KISD counterpart, the Lady Knights, never had a doubt they would get there, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 as District 8-5A runner-ups while demolishing records for most wins in a season (35) and reaching several individual achievements.
However, they lose nine seniors to graduation and will have to rebuild to replicate last season’s success.
Like Heights, the Lady Bulldawgs lost several key players to graduation, including four all-district selections, but retain a solid core, and Canete believes there are several newcomers with the potential to shock opponents, even if the team itself cannot.
“We lost some big factors from our team last year,” she said, “but I think we have some girls on varsity this year that can really replace them. I think they’ll do a good job and that is going to help us gel.”
2013 TEAM PREVIEWS
- Last season: 25-13, 9-5
- Outlook: The Lady Tigers rebounded from a one-win district season in 2011 to a playoff appearance in 2012. Now they have their sights set on a district title, behind second-year coach Stacy Meyers, who turned around the Belton program quickly. If they do that, it will be behind the experience of senior outside hitter Brieanna Brown and libero Kinsey Williams. Belton, however, has to replace 8-5A first-team do-it-all Maggie Kramer and hitter Alexus Dunning.
- Player to watch: Kinsey Williams, sr., libero — Williams was the district’s defensive player of the year and helped turn the Lady Tigers around.
- Last season: 37-7, 14-0 8-5A
- Outlook: The best season in Lady Bulldawgs’ history came to a disappointing end early in the playoffs last year. Having established itself as one of the district’s best teams and achieving numerous regular-season accomplishments in 2012, Copperas Cove’s attention has shifted to winning in the postseason. It will be up to a group of five returners, however, to help the roster’s eight newcomers get up to speed before the playoffs roll around.
- Player to watch: Bryaunea Hall, sr., middle blocker – Standing at 6-1, the all-district honorable mention is poised to breakout as a legitimate defensive force after completing just her second season of playing the sport.
- Last season: 17-19, 6-8 8-5A
- Outlook: This season, the third under head coach William De Gracia, Ellison feels it’s poised to break into the top four playoff spots, but it’ll depend on 5-foot-10 middle blocker Brianna Gray and 5-9 outside hitter Bailey Wade to help alleviate the graduation of 6-footer Kaitlyn Shearer.
- Player to watch: Brianna Gray, jr., middle blocker — Gray and her exceptional vertical-leaping ability will be counted on to carry the Lady Eagles offensively and defensively along a front line that averages about 5-foot-9.
- Last season: 5-25, 2-12 22-2A
- Outlook: It was a season of transition in 2012 for the Lady Buffaloes. Under interim coach Brett Gola, Florence’s softball coach, the team made strides, but could not get over the hump in district play. Now, Kelly Stevens, who was hired too late last year to take over as head coach, takes over with nearly a year of experience after serving as the varsity assistant. However, the team only has two seniors in Shali Simpson and Rebecca Horton and will have to count on the same youth movement that spurred the softball team in the spring.
- Last season: 35-6, 8-2 8-3A
- Outlook: The Lady Hornets’ roster was ravaged during the offseason as the district’s offensive and defensive players of the year and a pair of first-team members graduated. The departures leave Gatesville with only two returning starters, but it is difficult to count out a program that has not finished worse than second in district since 2002 and has earned seven district championships in the last 10 seasons. Regardless of circumstance, head coach Rickey Phillips’ teams find ways to win, reaching the regional quarterfinals in six of the last seven seasons.
- Player to watch: Kayla McGiboney, jr., middle blocker — After sitting behind all-state selection Ashley Cook last year, McGiboney (48 kills, 37 blocks in 2012) is prepared to inherit the starting position and begin creating a legacy of her own.
- Last season: 35-7, 11-3 8-5A
- Outlook: Gone are nine seniors, including five of the starting six that featured three 6-foot Division I signees in outside hitter Anjane Janda (Texas-Pan American) and middle blockers Deysia Burden (Southern University) and Shantraie Rodriguez (Sienna College), along with setter Katie Schulte (Temple JC) and libero Jordan Denney (Cisco JC). Heights will rely on lone returners such as 6-3 middle blocker Kathleen Janda and libero Amanda Bailey.
- Player to watch: Kathleen Janda, sr., middle blocker — The younger sister of Anjane Janda, Kathleen is at least 3 inches taller and has a larger frame with which to register devastating kills along what will be a much smaller Lady Knights front line.
- Last season: 18-30, 1-13 8-5A
- Outlook: The Lady Roos struggled in their first season in 5A and a return path to the playoffs will not be any easier this year. After back-to-back playoff appearances in 4A, Killeen won just one district game in 2012. Unfortunately, this year may be a rebuilding one for the Lady Roos.
- The squad lost a bevy of multi-year starters, including Esha Atkins, a four-year starting setter. Killeen will focus its efforts around returning outside hitters Chalon Anderson and Alicia Brown and libero Kiana Ware.
- Player to watch: Chalon Anderson, sr., outside hitter — The second-team all-district selection is an experienced attacker, but the Lady Roos need an efficient setter for Anderson to be most effective.
- Last season: 9-22, 1-9 8-3A
- Outlook: The Lady Badgers have little room for mistakes and virtually no room for injuries. After an extremely low turnout yielded only seven varsity players for Lampasas’ second-year head coach Kecia Davis, the odds and the numbers are stacked against the Lady Badgers.
- On the bright side, Lampasas returns four starters from an extremely young team, but middle blocker Madi Phillips serves as the squad’s lone senior. The Lady Badgers will be forced to rely on solid defense and strong communication while remaining healthy if they are going to be successful in a extremely competitive district.
- Player to watch: Nola Bishop, so., setter — Despite sharing the position with returning starter and all-district honorable mention Blake Webb, newcomer Bishop is touted as one of the best setters the program has seen in years.
- Last season: 18-19, 7-7 22-2A
- Outlook: Last season marked the first time in the last six years that the 2A Lady Eagles didn’t make the playoffs, falling out of contention losing five of their last six.
- Salado will try to get back to the postseason under its third head coach in the last four years, after former coach Rachel Lee resigned to take an administration position, opening the door for Tara Hatfield, who returns 4-5 players from last season’s rotation.
- Player to watch: Taylor Atwood, jr., middle blocker — At 6-foot-1, Atwood will take over the coveted middle position, where she’ll be counted on as the team’s go-to hitter after showing flashes last season following the season-ending injury to then-senior Sarah Toler.
- Last season: 12-20, 1-13 8-5A
- Outlook: While the Lady Grey Wolves continue to show improvement through their preseason schedule, success has yet to follow them into the district season. After combining for just 10 wins in 2009 and 2010, Shoemaker has won at least 12 in each of the last two seasons, but has totaled just three district wins.
- Senior middle blocker Maddison Woodard and senior setter Anessa Pitts return this year, but the Lady Grey Wolves have to replace the dynamic offense of outside hitter Tearra Roberson (Wiley College).
- Player to watch: Maddison Woodard, sr., middle blocker — Coming on late in the season to earn an all-district honorable mention last year, Woodard, who is also an all-district soccer player, will have to be as aggressive at the net offensively this season as she was defensively last season.
- Last season: 12-28, 5-9 8-5A
- Outlook: The Tem-Cats have a new head coach for the third time in four years and no returning seniors. New coach Timothy McDonald, a former sales manager, said Temple will be “young, quick and explosive,” this year.
- The Tem-Cats have to replace five all-district players from last year’s senior-heavy team. Only four players, Jenna Green, Tiffany Mays, Angel’ica Rivera and Darby Voight, return from last year’s squad that finished sixth in 8-5A, three games out of fourth place. All four will be juniors this season.
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com
Nick Talbot, Alex Byington and Kevin Posival contributed to this report.