By Bill Spinks

By Bill Spinks

Herald Democrat

There won’t be any volleyball playoffs for either Sherman or Denison this year, but both teams made some strides in 2013.

The Lady Bearcats made the bigger leap this fall, racking up a 20-win campaign and posting their first winning record since 2005. The Lady Cats stayed in playoff contention right up until Friday evening’s hard-fought loss to District 13-4A champion and defending five-time state champion Lovejoy.

"It’s been a great year," Sherman coach Cynthia Bruton said. "I couldn’t be prouder. I’ve enjoyed being in the gym with these girls. They make it easy."

The Lady Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, still have a chance to improve on last year’s district record, and will try to accomplish that this evening at Denison High School when the two archrivals close out the season against each other at approximately 6 p.m.

"It’s senior night at home, and the kids are excited about it," Denison coach Sandy McMillan said. "We intend to beat them (tonight). Last year we won at Denison, so we’re hoping to come out on top."

Tonight is the final volleyball game for four Denison seniors: Dee Harris, Stasia Dunlap, Katie Mithlo and Nicole Swindell.

The turnaround has been dramatic for Sherman (21-14, 6-7), which has a winning record for the first time in eight years. The Lady Cats stayed alive for a playoff berth with a four-set upset victory over McKinney North last week and wound up giving the powerful Lady Leopards a battle at Bearcat Gymnasium, losing 25-18, 25-18, 27-25.

"We played good, and if we could’ve played like we did Tuesday night (against North) it would’ve been better," Bruton said. "It was the first time their coach ever called time out against us."

Bruton, who is in her seventh season coaching in the Sherman ISD, said she spent a lot of her focus last year, her first as varsity head coach, on discipline and laying a foundation for the future.

"We didn’t have success in terms of wins or losses," Bruton said. "But the girls made progress in re-establishing the image of Sherman volleyball. It carried over. This year I felt like we were able to breathe a little."

Four key seniors — Kelsey Lillis, Jayzhia Softly, Sami Powers and Kelsey Jarvis — will be graduating, but Bruton is very optimistic about the future for the Lady Cat volleyball program.

"I’m very confident in our defense," she said. "Kennedy (Jewell) and Paige (Aleman) alone are huge and Madison (Winslett) can dig up anything. Our biggest replacements will be in the middle."

At the same time that Sherman has found renewed success, Denison is trying to do the same, but it’s been a struggle at the varsity level.

McMillan, who was highly successful at Pottsboro and led the Lady Cardinals to a state tournament appearance in 2008, undertook a similar construction project at Valley View a few years ago, starting that program from scratch. She is in the second year of another major overhaul, and hopes her concentration on the lower grades bears fruit in the coming seasons.

"We’re working, and trying to get our younger kids playing at the club level," McMillan said.