MIDLOTHIAN — The Lady Jaguars' week was in many ways a mirror image of itself after shutting out Alvarado High School and losing to Glen Rose High School straight sets in a weekend showdown of two of the state's best 4A teams.
Despite losing 25-16, 25-18 and 25-14 to the (20-4) Lady Tigers on Friday at Midlothian Heritage High School Gymnasium, the (17-15) Lady Jaguars have established themselves as contenders in the UIL.
"I believe that our preseason schedule has prepared us for district play," said Sarah Hallum, the MHHS head volleyball coach. "I continued to tell the team to trust the process during the preseason and I believe that they see the payoff. We are peaking at the right time. We have been through many changes this season, but the turning point was playing Argyle. We prepared, and played well as a team mentally and physically. "
The team, in its second year of varsity play, reeled off 13 of 20 wins since their five-set victory against North Forney High School on Aug. 19. Hallum and the Lady Jaguars also forced themselves into a two-way tie — behind Glen Rose (5-0) and Stephenville (4-1) High Schools — with Godley High School for third place in District 8-4A.
The Texas Girls Coaches Association, too, recognized the growth of the program, placing the Lady Jaguars at No. 22 in their 4A state poll and among the likes of Stephenville (No. 20), Giddings (No. 21) and Lorena (No. 23) High Schools after Tuesday's win.
Regardless of the results of matches against Alvarado and Glen Rose, production from team staples like Julia Valdez (21 kills, 13 digs, 6 blocks, 2 aces), Katie Chambers (25 digs, 7 aces) and Tori Needles (46 assists) has kept the team within earshot of either blowouts or narrow victories.
Against Glen Rose, Needles' 20 assists, Mary Greer's eight digs and Hannah Larson and Grayce Davis' five respective kills helped keep each match within reach and challenge the state's No. 2 polled team.
Their growth, however, came at the expense of a rougher than expected preseason and a 5-7 start to 2016.
"I think the thing that characterized our turning point is a complete buy-in into preparation needed to allows them to play less anxious and with great team chemistry," Hallum said. "I also believe that our district is one of the best in 4A. After playing Glen Rose, we face Stephenville, and Godley — teams we know come from successful programs. With all of the preparation that the girls have put in, we will be ready to compete at the top of our game.
"Ultimately, we know that the playoffs are the key team goal, but getting to that goal comes in steps. We continue to focus on winning the day and preparing each day to win the next match."
The Lady Jaguars were scheduled to face Stephenville High School at 6 p.m. Tuesday at MHHS Gymnasium after press time. The (15-14) Lady Yellow Jackets have won four of their last five games by shutout and have allowed no more than 14 points three times in 12 sets.