The growing pains are gone. Now a different feeling has taken its place.
It was a quick ascent for the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets, who ended a six-year playoff drought and more than doubled their win total. But in achieving those things, the ride ended with a bi-district sweep.
Now the goal isn’t just about improvement or even making the playoffs. Denison has shown to be capable in those respects. Now is the time, with a talented senior core, to put together a postseason run.
“We can’t slack off just because we made the playoffs,” Lady Yellow Jacket head coach Jana Kelly said. “We cannot take for granted that it happened. They were proud of what they did last season but they’re not satisfied.”
The first step in that direction comes as Denison opens the season by hosting Whitesboro tonight at 6 p.m. The non-district schedule last yearhad a 10-match win streak and provided the confidence the Lady Jackets needed to show their hard work was paying off.
Denison went 24-14 — a 14-win improvement over 2015 — and went from the bottom of the district standings to fourth place, a match in front of rival Sherman for the final playoff spot out of 5-5A. The ride ended with a sweep against Aledo, which made the region final before losing to eventual state champ Amarillo.
“We knew if we played our cards right and did what we knew we could do we’d have a chance to make the playoffs,” Kelly said. “The previous two years we were underdogs.”
Getting a better match-up in the bracket is on the Lady Jackets’ agenda but first and foremost is making sure they continue to hone their craft and avoid a hangover from such a strong effort for a bunch of players who had won just 15 matches combined in their first two varsity campaigns.
“They’ve been together for so long,” Kelly said. “The team chemistry is really good right now and I look for it to get better as the season goes.”
The roster was heavy on juniors as the Lady Jackets made their move up the standings and lose only Shila Hamilton, who was an honorable mention all-district pick, and Makayla Madden to graduation.
For the nine seniors, the expectations have been raised even higher off last year’s success.
“We lost two seniors but I feel like we have the personnel to fill in those holes,” Kelly said. “Our theme is no steps back. We have to continue to move forward.”
Denison did not tailor its offense to any one hitter but Kiara Scott finished with 286 kills, 264 digs and 59 aces for her junior year and was a first-team all-district choice.
Classmate Taylor Greenameyer was also first-team all-district after totaling 246 kills, 385 digs, 32 blocks and 34 aces.
“I can put them next to each other and they play well off each other and I can put them opposite each other in the rotation and have to good options all the way around,” Kelly said.
Running the offense was second-team all-district pick Courtney Gillespie and the senior setter handed out 737 assists to go with 228 digs and 40 aces.
“She’s so dependable. We may depend on her to a fault at times,” Kelly said. “She runs the court and everybody on it with her knows it.”
Seniors Kenli Powell and Kaylee Walters return to the rotation after earning honorable mention all-district accolades while classmate Drew Hayes is again another hitting options
On the back row, senior defensive specialist Taylor Dawes was second-team all-district.
“She’s just all over the place all the time,” Kelly said. “It amazes me because of all the balls she can get to and keep alive.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Sydney Hosey and Alyssa Pineda, junior Hannah Bilderback and sophomore Taryn Gaines.
“We’ve got some really good options,” Kelly said. “They’re finding their spot.”
In addition to matches against Whitesboro, North Lamar, Van Alstyne, McKinney North, Krum and Aubrey, the Lady Yellow Jackets will host a tournament on August 17 and 19 as well as compete in tournaments at Denton and Whitesboro before District 5-5A play starts on September 8.
The alignment stays the same for another season with Sherman, Denton Ryan, Wichita Falls Rider, Denton, Wichita Falls and Denton Braswell. Ryan is the defending district champion, Rider finished second and Denton was third.
“It came down to the very last set of the season,” Kelly said. “We have our work cut out for us. I think these girls know the importance to make it the best year yet.”