Even though district play has just started, the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets aren’t taking anything for granted.
Last year’s meteoric rise that led to the first playoff appearance in five seasons isn’t just going to be duplicated with a repeat trip to the postseason. So a large senior core will be trying to lock down those early victories to make the regular-season finish line not as nerve-wracking.
“When you have nine seniors, four who have been on varsity since they were freshmen, you would hope that as a coach they are ready and their success is what they expect,” Denison head coach Jana Kelly said. “The surprising thing now is when we don’t get a win — we played hard and we expect to win. But they also know it’s not going to be given to them.”
A good step in that direction comes as Denison (19-7, 0-1) travels to Sherman (23-5, 0-1) for a District 5-5A match tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Gaining the upper hand this early will put pressure on the losing team, especially because it means an 0-2 hole in a district that looks tougher than last season.
“We had a great preseason but now it’s district,” Sherman head coach Ashley Aleman said. “This is what matters. This is where all the marbles are at.”
Sherman, Denton Ryan and Braswell were all ranked in the top 25 in Class 5A last week and the week prior to that Denison was in the rankings as well. Wichita Falls has already matched its win total from a year ago and Rider and Denton were playoff teams last season.
“It goes to show how evenly matched our district is,” Kelly said. “We have to prepare well and take care of business when we’re in that position.”
Sherman has already blown past its win total from 2016, when it was 17-22, and has guaranteed a winning record for the first time since 2013.
“Where we’re at is where I always thought we could be,” Aleman said. “With what we’ve done, it’s been great and fun but you have to remember how you got there. The good thing is when we do lose or aren’t satisfied about something, they’re ready to change it and fix it.”
Both teams opened district play not only with losses but were swept.
Denison went up against defending 5-5A champion Denton Ryan at home and lost 25-13, 25-14, 28-26. Taylor Greenameyer had 10 kills and eight digs, Kiara Scott added five kills and seven digs, Drew Hayes put down five kills, Taryn Gaines totaled four kills and six digs, Courtney Gillespie handed out 22 assists to go with 13 digs and Taylor Dawes collected nine digs.
“I definitely feel like on our end we didn’t play well our first two sets. The scores show that,” Kelly said. “We played much better in the third one and I think if we had played like that earlier it would have been a different match.”
Sherman made a trip to Wichita Falls and returned with a 26-24, 25-19, 25-19 loss to Wichita Falls, which won only two district matches last season. Kylie Jackman had eight kills, Rylie Bernard added six kills along with 11 digs and two aces. Sarah Graham finished with three blocks. Dallas Aleman had 27 assists and nine digs and Cameron Wecker had 16 digs.
“They’re going to get some wins. They got us,” Aleman said. “We did not stay on top of our mental game. Hopefully they’ll learn from that. We’re moving on.”
This will be the second meeting between the rivals this season as they battled for the Whitesboro Invitational championship two and a half weeks ago.
Denison was trying to defend its title but the Lady Bearcats earned the crown with a 25-22, 25-16 victory.
But this match, as well as the return to Denison on October 6, are the ones that really count.
“I really don’t like when we play before district. You never know how the girls will think,” Aleman said. “We always go into it thinking they’re going to have to fight for it. You have to be ready to battle.”
The teams split the 5-5A matches a year ago but it was the Lady Yellow Jackets who advanced to the postseason as the fourth seed while fifth-place Sherman finished a game back.
“We know what they do and they know what we do,” Kelly said. “It’s going to come down to execution and who makes the least amount of mistakes. My girls are fired up. They want to come out and get a win against them.”