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Denison eyes push to reach the playoffs

Jason Della Rosa
Herald Democrat

The Lady Yellow Jackets went into the final matches of last season still alive for a playoff spot but ended up on the outside of a postseason bracket that never officially happened.

After coming up short again, Denison is working on the finer points to get over the hump that has seen these recent postseason pushes stall.

“I feel really good about what we have. They have that connection in practice, we just need to carry it into the games,” Lady Jackets head coach Aaron Bach said. “It’s going to come together.”

And while it comes with a few more changes among the starters than has been typical for the past few years, Denison starts its season by hosting Celina at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night.

The Lady Jackets ended last year at 7-12 overall and 1-7 in 10-5A play with two matches remaining when the coronavirus pandemic shut down and eventually cancelled the rest of the season.

Denison has been more competitive under Bach, who enters his fourth year leading the program. After a 7-16-2 mark in his first season — more wins than the previous three years combined — the Lady Jackets went 12-10-1 in 2019 and expected to continue the upward trend last spring with almost the entire roster returning. But in district play Denison was the first team out of the playoffs again, unable to clinch a berth for first time since 2014.

“Last year we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the playoffs because we had been so close the year before,” Bach said.

Compared to going into the 2020 season, when it replaced just two starters, Denison lost five starters to graduation heading into this campaign.

The biggest hole in the lineup comes at forward. The Lady Jackets need to replace Christina Hernandez, a four-time first-team all-district selection and one of the top goal-scorers in program history.

“We counted on Christina to do everything for us. Everybody realizes they have to step up and contribute,” Bach said.

Kaitlyn Graham closed out her career with a pair of first-team all-district selections in the midfield while Ytzel Moreno was an honorable mention all-district pick alongside Graham and Delaney Butterworth and Daniela Sanchez were both honorable mention all-district defenders.

“I’m still tinkering with things. It’s about trying to find those right combinations of people,” Bach said. “We’re still moving some pieces.”

Sophomore Alyssa Patterson will take over at the forward spot after not playing during her freshman year.

Senior Jackie Patterson was second-team all-district for the second straight season and will be in the midfield along with classmate Karsen Ives, who returned from injury last season and earned second-team all-district accolades while sophomore Hattie Gardner jumped right into a starting role and was second-team all-district as well.

Also back on the unit is senior Madeline Marr and junior Madison Patterson, who was an honorable mention all-district selection.

“We’re a little more patient in what we do. There’s more experience and that helps,” Bach said. “We need to let the moments open up, not be attacking every time.”

On defense, junior Brilee Payne was an honorable mention all-district pick and the lone returning starter on the unit, although sophomore Reagan Payne was a starter in the midfield. In the battle for a starting spot includes senior Abby Montes, junior Jessica McCary, sophomore Emma McLemore and freshman Kaitlyn Lashley.

A pair of juniors — Mary Siems and and Paige McMillan — are in the running to be the keeper after Ashlee Camfield transferred following her freshman season as the starter.

In addition to competing in the Garland Tournament and hosting their own tournament once again, the Lady Yellow Jackets have a non-district match against Melissa before beginning 10-5A play on Jan. 22.

Denison remained with the schools it had been with — Sherman, McKinney North, Lovejoy, Wylie East and Princeton — while Prosper Rock Hill and The Colony were added to the mix.

Non-district

What: Celina at Denison

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday