Harker Heights reached District 12-6A’s pinnacle last year. Now, the Lady Knights must remain there.
Eight years after its previous playoff appearance, Harker Heights halted the hiatus in impressive fashion, winning 11 consecutive district contests en route to clinching the championship.
If last season is any indication, however, defending the title will not be easy.
The Lady Knights, who survived four five-set encounters, narrowly edged out Bryan, which was responsible for one of Harker Heights’ two district losses, for the championship by a single game.
Additionally, the next three teams in the standings – Copperas Cove, Ellison and Belton – finished within two games of each other, creating a competitive race to secure postseason berths.
But now, last season’s showings are inconsequential.
The 14-game, six-and-a-half week trek toward crowning the 2021 champion begins across the area tonight as the district schedule starts with a full slate of games highlighted by the Lady Knights opening defense of their title at home against the runner-up Lady Vikings.
BELTON: 7-7 last season in 12-6A, fifth place
The Lady Tigers have something to prove after seeing their promising 4-2 start to district play last year completely disintegrate by losing five of their next six matches. Despite its struggles, Belton finished just two games out of playoff contention, and the Lady Tigers return eight players to their roster, including all-district selections Kylie Blomquist, a senior setter, and senior setter/defensive specialist McKenzie Mansell.
BRYAN: 11-3, second
Last year, the Lady Vikings suffered two five-set losses in district, and it cost them greatly as they finished one game behind champion Harker Heights. Outside of the pair of defeats and being swept by Belton, though, Bryan was almost flawless, dropping just four sets in its other 11 matches, and they return plenty of talent after graduating just three seniors.
COPPERAS COVE: 9-5, tied third
The Lady Bulldawgs’ consistency continued in 2020, when they struggled in comparison to recent campaigns but still advanced to the playoffs for a 15th consecutive season. The trend should continue as the squad returns two of the district’s top players in two-time defending defensive player of the year Emma Wasiak, a libero, and most valuable blocker Kyra Gaston along with three other all-district selections.
ELLISON: 9-5, tied third
The Lady Eagles have become fixtures atop the district standings with seven consecutive postseason appearances but are still attempting to become championship material. Ellison lost nine seniors from last year’s roster and now has five underclassmen, including two freshmen, helping fill their spots, but key components in Kira Bass, who was the 2020 newcomer of the year, and libero Evelyn Lorenzo remain.
HARKER HEIGHTS: 12-2, first
After years of scratching and clawing toward success, the Lady Knights must change their mentality as every team in the district will now be looking to upset the champion. Harker Heights, however, has the talent to withstand the challenge, returning all-district most valuable player Kayla Williams, a senior, first-team selection Kaley Lelauti, and honorable mentions Makayla Wiggins, Alicia Mora, Tyra Oliver and Katie Kennison.
KILLEEN: 4-10, tied sixth
The Lady Kangaroos struggled last season, earning two of its four victories against winless Temple, but they did produce a couple signature showings by beating Belton in five sets and narrowly falling to champion Harker Heights 3-2. Julia Jurewicz, a junior middle blocker, senior outside hitter Laniesha Lott and senior setter Yazmin Villasana will anchor the squad after being named all-district honorable mentions last year.
SHOEMAKER: 4-10, tied sixth
The Lady Grey Wolves won their first three games, including a five-set victory against perennial power Copperas Cove, but it quickly fell apart as they only captured a total of five sets during the duration of the season. Returning all-district selections Isabel Nautu, Shamia Grandison, Hivana Cotto and Kamilah Tanner look to guide the squad into playoff contention this year.
TEMPLE: 0-14, eighth
There is nowhere to go but up for the Tem-Cats, who emerged from last season’s district schedule with just a single set victory and since Sept. 13, 2019, have only won three district matches. Temple looks to rebound behind new head coach Alyssa Cataldo and an experienced roster with eight seniors, including all-district first-team member Amaya Benekin-Mills, second-team selection Lyric Biggiers and honorable mention Ali Mack.