A Sherman-Denison meeting in any sport will be intense.
Throw in a battle for playoff positioning, and it gets really intense.
When the Lady Cats and Lady Jackets volleyball teams meet for the third time this season at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Denison, the winner will emerge with sole possession of third place in the District 5-5A standings with four matches to play. Denison (22-10) and Sherman (26-8) enter the match tied for third place at 3-4.
And for Denison, there's even more on the line.
“Friday's got a lot of weight on it,” Denison coach Jana Kelly said. “It's kind of the trifecta of games for us. Not only is is a district match-up that will determine third and fourth place at this time, but it's also the Sherman-Denison game and there's always a lot of hype and emotion that goes into that. It's also going to be our senior night and we have nine seniors that we're going to recognize at the conclusion of the varsity match.
“There's a lot of hype and emotion going into this game. It's obviously a very important game to win with sole possession of third place on the line. We certainly don't want to find ourselves tied for fourth with another team that we're going to have to fight against later.”
The fact that Sherman won the first two meetings — beating Denison for the championship of the Whitesboro Invitational on Aug. 26, then winning in five sets at home in the first district meeting on Sept. 12 — only serves as added motivation for Denison.
“Our girls are hungry for a win, especially against Sherman,” Kelly said. “They've already been beaten by Sherman twice this season. They've been working really hard. They've been practicing well. They're pretty focused. They know they've got a hard road ahead, but they know they can do it if they take care of business and do what they're supposed to do.”
For Sherman, Friday's match is a chance to continue to bounce back from a 1-4 start in district play in which all four losses were on the road. The Lady Cats got back in the race with home wins over Denton and Wichita Falls , and have three more home matches to play.
“We're taking every match from here on out as a must,” Sherman head coach Ashley Aleman said. “We can't let any more slip through our fingers.”
Aleman said the Lady Cats have done a better job of maintaining momentum in winning their last two.
“Instead of being two steps behind, we're trying to be two steps ahead of what our opponent's trying to do,” she said. “More energy, more alert in our games and trying to focus on what the tendencies of our opponents are And trying to be two steps ahead of that.”
Denison overcame an 0-3 start in district to win three in a row before Tuesday's loss to Denton Ryan.
“We were at home most of the first half,” Kelly said. “We had four at home and two away. Now, we're going to be on the road for four games and home for just two. This is one of our final two home games this season. We're going to try to take advantage of homecourt advantage and a home crowd.”
Aleman said the Lady Cats must build on the success of their earlier meetings with the Lady Jackets.
“We just have to execute plays where they have holes,” she said. “We've got to learn to play to their weakness. That's what we're going to try to focus on going into Friday, where are their weaknesses at, and try to capitalize on those.”
There's also the matter of limiting what Denison did well in the first two matches.
“Their middle blockers are really good at taking any angles away,” Aleman said. “They've got some really smart, experienced hitters who are able to find our holes, as well. We're going to try to prevent that this time.”
Kelly said the Lady Jackets won't be doing anything different, but must do it better than before.
“We haven't changed our game plan any,” she said. “We're going to do what we do because we know what we do works. We're going to stick with that and see what happens.”
The key, Kelly said, will be in limiting the errors that cost Denison in its previous encounters with Sherman.
“It's not going to really come down to the team that wants it more since both teams want it pretty bad,” she said. “Not only do they want third place by themselves, they also want bragging rights. There's always something you gain from the Sherman-Denison match-up.
“It's going to come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. With a little bit of good luck, certain balls, certain rallies fall your way. We kind of had that momentum when we were at Sherman and it kind of flip-flopped real quick and we ended up getting the short end of the stick on that one. But I was super proud of how hard they played that night.”