New Southlake Carroll coach Ryan Mitchell thinks the UIL did his team a favor by grouping Carroll with Colleyville Heritage and Coppell in District 7-6A.
“Battle testing yourself is important. Southlake in the past has gotten into district and hasn’t dropped a set or hasn’t been tested,” Mitchell said. “It will make teams more playoff-ready.”
Colleyville Heritage coach Jamie Siegel agrees.
“I love it,” Siegel said. “Being in a tough district with Southlake and Coppell that are usually in the top 10 will prepare us for a good playoff run.”
As the season opens Monday, Carroll is No. 3 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s preseason 6A state rankings, and Heritage is No. 5. Carroll was a state semifinalist and finished 48-2 last season. Heritage was 42-6 and lost to Carroll in a regional final a year after losing to Coppell in the same round.
After winning state titles in 2011 and 2012, Coppell was 42-4 and lost to Colleyville Heritage in five sets in a regional quarterfinal. Fellow 7-6A members Euless Trinity and Hurst L.D. Bell also made the playoffs.
“It’s crazy competitive,” Coppell coach Julie Green said. “We want to be most prepared when we come out of district, so we need to play those teams. The heart-breaker is when you don’t have a very good district and then you get to the playoffs and all of a sudden a weakness is exposed.”
While they will battle each other for a district title in the fall, Carroll outside hitter Madison Drescher, Carroll libero Mykah Wilson, Colleyville Heritage middle blocker Anna Walsh and Coppell all-state setter Kylie Pickrell teamed up this summer. Their Texas Advantage Volleyball club team didn’t lose a set in winning the 17 Open division at the prestigious USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships in Minneapolis.
Walsh, who has committed to Virginia, was SportsDay’s All-Area Player of the Year last season after finishing with 600 kills, 422 digs and 50 blocks. Colleyville Heritage also returns district setter of the year Alex Janak and Kennesaw State pledge Maddie Jones.
Pickrell, a senior who has committed to Arizona State, had 1,427 assists and 414 digs. Coppell junior outside hitter Jamie Stivers has committed to Duke, and Pickrell is one of four players remaining from Coppell’s 2012 state title team.
Mitchell had a record of 295-41 while coaching at Lovejoy, and he won five consecutive state championships from 2008 to 2012. At Carroll, he replaces Arthur Stanfield, who ranks among the nation’s all-time winningest coaches.
Carroll lost all-state players Cat McCoy and Christen Sikora to graduation, and Oklahoma pledge Audrey Alford moved to Oklahoma City. But Carroll still has three NCAA Division I pledges: Drescher (Oklahoma), senior outside hitter Paige Panter (Texas A&M) and senior setter McKenzie Brewer (Stephen F. Austin).
Other players to watch
Kaitlyn Blake, Allen: The Texas A&M pledge was named District 10-5A’s outstanding blocker last year and helped Allen reach a regional semifinal. She’ll join Texas Tech pledge Chandler Atwood and Denver pledge Sheridan Ralston to form one of the area’s best trios.
Brianne Burkert, Richardson Pearce: The all-state senior setter had 625 assists and 346 kills and has committed to Florida State. Last season’s District 9-5A MVP will be playing for a new coach, as Jennifer Nance takes over at Pearce after working as a Lovejoy assistant.
Lauren Cox, Flower Mound: The junior middle blocker is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 basketball recruit in the Class of 2016 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz and has offers to play both basketball and volleyball at Division I colleges.
Aniah Hatfield-Philo, Rockwall-Heath: The senior outside hitter has offers from major colleges and will try to help replace LSU signee Regina Tillis. Last year’s regional quarterfinalist also returns Central Florida pledge Jessica Nwabuko and Stephen F. Austin pledge Haley Colman.
Morgan Johnson, DeSoto: The all-state senior middle blocker, who has committed to Texas, had 364 kills and 169 blocks last season. Texas Tech pledge Alexis Burke returns after missing much of last season with injuries.
Katy Keenan, Argyle: The senior middle blocker, who is committed to Texas Tech, led Dallas-area 3A players in kills in the regular season. She is one of two all-state players returning for Argyle, along with junior outside hitter Eighmy Dobbins.
Ashleigh Martin, McKinney Boyd: The TCU pledge ranked fifth among area 5A players in kills in the 2013 regular season with 491. Martin and Texas Tech pledge Katelyn Bryant will try to help Boyd reach the state tournament for the third time in four years.
Brenna McIlroy, Rowlett: The senior outside hitter, who has committed to Auburn, had 457 kills and 310 digs and was last year’s District 11-5A MVP.
Brookah Palmer, Hebron: The Houston pledge was an all-state selection and led area 5A players in kills per game (4.50) in the regular season.
Eleanor Watson, Highland Park: The 6-2 all-state senior middle hitter, who has committed to Mississippi State, will try to help Highland Park build on last season’s 38-8 record and regional quarterfinal appearance as it moves up to 6A.
Other teams to watch
Bishop Lynch: Coach Tricia Roos said this team may be a little better than last year’s 32-9 squad that won a second straight TAPPS 5A state title. Senior all-state setter Morgan Reed committed to Texas Tech, and Haley Puddy committed to Loyola (Md.). Francesca Goncalves committed to Florida State for sand volleyball. Roos said freshmen Madi Tyus and Hannah Puddy are “two of the best in the country at their age.” Bishop Lynch will have to contend with state runner-up Ursuline, which returns all-state pick Brianna Hoelting.
Frisco Centennial: After compiling a 37-8 record and losing a five-set regional final to Prosper last season, Centennial could contend for a state title in what is now 5A (the old 4A). It is No. 3 in the preseason state rankings. All-state senior outside hitter/middle blocker Micaya White, who has committed to Texas, had an area-best 725 kills. White and Mississippi State pledge Lexi MacLean played for the Texas Advantage Volleyball club team that won a junior national title this summer. Centennial also returns all-state setter Riley MacDonald.
Lovejoy: After winning five straight state titles, Lovejoy’s run ended last season when it lost to Frisco Centennial in a regional semifinal. Lovejoy is No. 6 in the preseason 5A state rankings. Jason Nicholson left Richardson Pearce to take over as Lovejoy’s coach, replacing Ryan Mitchell. All-state junior middle blocker Sarah Langs played on the U.S. youth national team that earned a silver medal in the NORCECA Women’s U-18 Continental Championship in Costa Rica this summer. Jordan Fate was the District 13-4A setter of the year last season, and Callie Holden was the district’s co-newcomer of the year.
Plano: After reaching a regional final, Plano thought it was going to have Shalom Ifeanyichukwu, a transfer from Bishop Lynch who has committed to Oregon State. But the all-state hitter moved to California. Plano has added setter Madelyn Cole, a transfer from Grapevine Faith Christian who has committed to Marshall. Mackenzie Snowden and Madeline Johnson ranked first and third in blocks per game for a 28-14 team, and Gabby Howard was fourth in kills. In the newly named Class 6A, Plano will be in one of the state’s toughest districts. District 6-6A will include regional semifinalists Allen and Hebron, regional quarterfinalist Flower Mound, McKinney Boyd (state tournament qualifier in 2011, 2012) and Plano West (has SMU pledge Lauren Rodemers and Duquesne pledge Camryn Vecera).
Prosper: Last season’s Class 4A state runner-up returns four starters from a 35-12 team and added Ashtyn Richey, a transfer from Pilot Point who has committed to SMU. Junior Ashley Brown has committed to Oklahoma, and coach Erin McClanahan said Brown is “arguably one of the top three setters in the nation in her class.” First-team all-district picks Abby Jameson and Kandyce Freeman return for a team that is No. 7 in the preseason 5A state rankings.
Monday: First day UIL teams can play matches
Nov. 7-8: TAPPS state tournament at Corsicana High (both days) and Navarro College (first day only)
Nov. 20-22: UIL state tournament at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland
On Twitter: @DMNGregRiddle