The playoffs for the Denison volleyball team are starting with more than a week to go in the regular season. That's because the Lady Yellow Jackets have three matches remaining and most likely need to win all of them in order to secure a second straight playoff appearance.
“The rest of the season is win-or-go-home for us,” Denison head coach Jana Kelly said. “Every game is a must win. Our goal is to get in and we can still do that.”
After Denison lost against 5-5A co-leader Wichita Falls Rider on Tuesday night, the team sits in fifth place with a 22-12 overall record and 3-6 mark in district play. All six of the Lady Jackets' losses have come against the top three teams — Rider, defending district champ Ryan and Sherman. Denison hosts Denton, which currently holds the last playoff spot by a half game over the Lady Jackets, tonight, then plays at Wichita Falls and Denton Braswell before having the district bye on the final night of the regular season.
“Our fate is in our hands,” Kelly said. “We hold our own destiny. At least we've given ourselves a shot.”
If the Lady Jackets beat all three of those opponents again, they will advance to the postseason. Even one loss might get them there, depending on which team it comes against and it could at least extend things to a tie-breaker match.
A large group of seniors — there are nine on the roster — has already produced back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 2004-05 but falling short of a playoff return would be a disappointment considering the huge leap last year's squad made to reach the postseason for the first time in their careers.
“We were sitting in third at one time. Now we're teetering on fourth/fifth,” Kelly said. “In this district, anything can happen to anybody.”
Back to regionals
For the second straight season the Denison cross-country team will have multiple representatives at the Class 5A Region I meet.
Senior Aubyn Thompson qualified for the third straight year while senior Wilson Kirkbride and sophomore Christina Hernandez advanced past district for the first time. It is the first time since 2011 that the program has sent at least three qualifiers and it is the third straight season to have a qualifier for the first time since 2001-03.
Thompson, the defending 5-5A champion, was third a tthe district meet in 20:36.49 and Hernandez was eighth in 21:33.02 as Denison finished fourth in the standings and was one point from qualifying as a team.
Kirkbride qualified with an eighth-place finish in 17:58.39 as the Yellow Jackets placed fifth in the team standings. He improved nine spots and nearly 13 seconds from last fall.
Last season, Thompson finished 41st with a time of 20:08.44 at the region meet and 52 seconds behind the last state qualifying spot. Hernandez almost qualified for regionals with an 11th-place district finish, one spot from advancing, before making it this time by shaving nearly 30 seconds off her time.
Finishing the season
The Denison tennis team closed out the fall season with a loss against Sherman in district action on Tuesday. While the Yellow Jackets did not qualify for the playoffs, there were some bright spots for when the spring season comes around in a couple of months.
Denison had non-district victories over Wylie, Greenville and Durant as well as a 5-5A win over Denton Braswell. A lot of the team's success came on the girls side in singles action by Haylee Cannon, Alex Evans, Bailey Stone, Jenna Hoppert, Micaiah Wetzold and Avery Hall. Cannon, who did not lose at No. 1 singles all fall, also teamed with Jackson Brandt for multiple wins in mixed doubles.
Offense is cooking
The Yellow Jacket football team is coming off its bye and the hope is that the offense will continue its recent hot streak.
After Denison scored a total of 73 points through the first three games, the Jackets scored 57 points in a loss against Frisco Heritage and then had 55 points in the District 5-5A opening win over Wichita Falls.
It was the first time since 2009 that the program had scored at least 55 points in back-to-back games. There have been only two occasions where Denison has done that for at least three straight games — 2003 and 1997.
Included in that output was 598 yards against Heritage, which is the 10th-most in school history, and 562 yards against Wichita Falls, 400 of that rushing.