The volleyball playoffs had been a long, long time coming for Whitewright.

The volleyball playoffs had been a long, long time coming for Whitewright.

And while Bells didn’t have to wait nearly as long, it certainly felt like it based on recent seasons.

"We knew from the start of two-a-days we had a chance," Lady Panthers senior setter Emily Fagan said. "We’ve prepared ourselves for that. We’ve had that mindset the whole time."

The two 11-2A programs crashed a postseason party that seemed to be the exclusive locale for their districtmates over the past decade. That makes sense, because a decade ago neither school had a volleyball program.

"Time for us to step in," Whitewright senior outside hitter Sydney Brummett said. "We were super excited and mentally ready."

Now both will get a taste of the playoffs tonight as Whitewright (15-20) faces Caddo Mills (33-5) at 8 p.m. at Anna while Bells (24-11) faces Gunter (23-8) at 7 p.m. at Whitesboro in Class 2A Region II bi-district action.

"Attitude is a big part of it," Bells senior Makenzi Davis said. "Staying positive the whole time. We have momentum going."

Whitewright restarted volleyball in 2008 and slowly made the climb to the postseason, its first appearance since 1975. The Lady Tigers won just four matches in their first three seasons of varsity competition before finishing fourth in 2011 and in fifth place last season.

"I knew the talent. I knew what was coming up. I knew they had a drive in there," said first-year head coach Dene Adams, who came to Whitewright from Bells. "I did my best to make them see what they could be. We’re doing everything we can to make this experience memorable."

The University Interscholastic League added a fourth playoff team starting this school year and Whitewright was able to take advantage — on the last day of the season and against Bells.

"That’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted was to go to playoffs," senior Shelby Poe said. "Be the first to have a banner. Be remembered. We wanted to do it for our team."

The Lady Tigers needed a victory over the Lady Panthers to get to 7-7 and for Howe to lose to first-place Callisburg so they could tie in the standings. Whitewright swept both meetings against the Lady Bulldogs and clinched the final spot when the scenario played out.

"We definitely rose to the occasion," Adams said. "They were very confident. That’s exactly what you need going into the playoffs. It’s starting to sink in."

With just two seniors, Whitewright is relying on a rotation that contains three freshmen and three sophomores.

"We brought up a really strong freshman class so we knew it was now or never," Brummett said.

Bells is making its second playoff trip since it resumed volleyball in 2004. The Lady Panthers made it to the area round in 2009, under Adams, which was the first for the program since 1977 but the past couple of seasons found Bells at the bottom of the standings. Last year Bells was 8-20 overall and did not win a match in district play. The year before that the Lady Panthers were 1-13 in district.

"I knew that they hadn’t won in district but after meeting them I saw something inside them that just needed to have the competitor come out," Bells head coach Corey Jenkins said. "They were hungry for success."

Enter Jenkins, who has made the playoffs at Miller Grove, Celina and Wolfe City in the past six years.

"I don’t like to sound conceited. I made it about them," Jenkins said. "That might be one of the reasons they bought in."

It helped that the Lady Panthers jumped out to a fast start, winning more games three weeks into the season than all of 2012.

"Once we started winning, it snowballed from there," Jenkins said. "The light really went on after the first district game when we beat Howe in five. It was their first district win in so long."

From that point on Bells was always in possession of a playoff spot but in a competitive 11-2A didn’t clinch until the second to last contest. That helped keep the Lady Panthers focused on the task ahead as a balanced attacked continued to succeed.

"We have four, five equal hitters," Fagan said. "There’s not one girl who is the focus."

While Carlee Shelby leads the team in kills at 307, Fagan, Bree Joyce and Katie Shults all have at least 125 kills.

"The team’s the MVP. I think they all carry each other," Jenkins said. "I feel comfortable setting any girl out there."