If another big jump by the Lady Yellow Jackets takes place this season, then Denison can do more than just pencil in a trip to the playoffs.

This upward trajectory has been building for a couple of years and the returning core of upperclassmen who saw their careers start slowly have been achieving success in small doses.

Now ready to put together one of the program’s best campaigns, Denison opens the season on Thursday in the Garland ISD Tournament.

In head coach Aaron Bach’s first year leading the team, the Lady Jackets went 7-16-2 — more wins than the previous three years combined — with much of the progress coming in the first part of the schedule as Denison went 7-6 before earning only a pair of ties in 12 district matches. Almost all of the key pieces returned and the Lady Jackets went 12-10-1 in 2019 — earning the second-most victories in program history behind 13 in 2008. In 10-5A action there was also progress with a 2-7-1 mark but Denison finished fifth and one spot out on the playoffs after going into the final week of the season with a chance to get in.

“We were one goal from making the playoffs. If we beat Sherman instead of tie or tie Princeton instead of lose 1-0, we’re in,” Bach said. “This group right now, it’s all about making playoffs. They talk about it a lot. It’s a good mindset to have but we know it won’t be handed to us. The expectations are higher.”

Having everything click is the next step and really, the final step for these Lady Jackets. It would be just the second time in the past 11 seasons and first since 2014 for Denison to qualify for the playoffs.

“That’s the ultimate goal. You can still have a good year but if you don’t make the playoffs it’s not the step forward. It’s not the standard,” Bach said. “At the same time we’re trying to stay focused on one game at a time.”

For the second straight season, a low number of seniors — Denison has to replace only second-team all-district midfielder Zoey Crisler and Elizabeth Smith — means there are plenty of returning starters, several of them with at least three years under their belts, set to continue their forward progress. They will be joined by some incoming freshmen that are fighting for significant minutes.

“We did get some young freshmen come up that will help us a lot,” Bach said. “That will add some depth that we needed. They’ve shown that they can play.”

Leading the way once again is senior Christina Hernandez, who was first-team all-district for the first three seasons of her career and led the Lady Jackets with 28 goals — an improvement from 17 as a sophomore — and 10 assists. She has signed with Texas A&M-Commerce.

“It does go through her. Hopefully it will open things up for others because she gets so much respect and others can take advantage,” Bach said.

Junior Jackie Patterson, who was second-team all-district as a sophomore, will move from the midfield to a forward spot.

“She’s feisty and aggressive and she’ll crash the goal,” Bach said.

Senior Katie Graham heads up the midfield after being named first-team all-district and the group welcomes back junior Karson Ives, an honorable mention all-district choice as a freshman who missed all of last season with an injury. Also back on the unit is junior Madeline Marr and senior Ytzel Moreno. The newcomers are freshmen Hattie Gardner, Reagan Payne and Alyssa Patterson.

On defense, almost the entire core is back once again. Seniors Delaney Butterworth, who was second-team all-district, and Daniela Sanchez and sophomore Brilee Payne will be joined by sophomore Madison Patterson.

There will be a change at keeper for the Lady Jackets. Junior Ashlyn Creswell, a second-team all-district choice a year ago, will not be playing. Taking over in net is freshman Ashlee Camfield.

“There was some reserve but she has experience with her club team,” Bach said. “She’s super athletic and she wants to get better.”

In addition to hosting a tournament and competing in the Anna-Melissa Tournament, Denison will face Lake Dallas, Melissa and Community in non-district matches before opening 10-5A play on Feb. 4. The Lady Jackets are once again grouped with Denison, McKinney North, Lovejoy, Princeton and Wylie East. North, the defending district champ, Lovejoy, East and Princeton are the teams looking to return to the playoffs again this season.