Brownwood opens 2017 campaign Tuesday at home against San Angelo

With nine of 11 varsity players back from the first bi-district championship squad since 2009, the Brownwood Lady Lions volleyball team, under the tutelage of second-year head coach Julie Kennedy, is looking to make even greater strides during the 2017 campaign.

The first test for the Lady Lions comes at noon Tuesday when Class 6A San Angelo Central visits Warren Gym in the season opener for both teams.

“Our expectations for this season are to exceed what we did last year,” Kennedy said. “We expect to be in the running as one of the top teams in the state.”

The Lady Lions posted a 22-18 overall record last season, finishing second to Abilene Wylie in the District 5-4A race and knocking off Vernon in the first round of the playoffs. Only graduates Bailey Randle and Kayla McFarden have departed from last year's team.

Returnees include reigning 5-4A Offensive MVP Torrey Miller, 5-4A Co-Newcomer of the Year Hadley Monroe, first-team selections Mikaela Smith and Cheyenne Stroope, second-team choices Annie Gillispie, Ashlynn Patteson and Aleyia Cotton, as well as Tyra Cotton and Madi Gosch. Newcomers to the varsity roster include Davalynn Monroe and McKenzie Welker.

Kennedy stated that experience and versatility are the strongest suits for the Lady Lions.

“We still have four sophomore on the team, but three of them have a year of varsity play under their belts,” Kennedy said. “The rest of the team is juniors and seniors and I believe that experience will be one of our best strengths, and certainly something we did not have last year.

“Other than experience, I have so many players that can play multiple positions. Every girl on my varsity team can play the back row and pass. And every girl with the exception of my two small back row girls can play front row. We are loaded with talent this year and are trying to figure out how to best utilize it.”

Among the areas in which the Lady Lions need to improve, Kennedy stated she would like to see a more consistent performance, along with sharper passing.

“We can always work on passing,” Kennedy said. “We are working on lowering our passes for a faster offense.”

After the San Angelo Central match, the Lady Lions head to Abilene Friday and Saturday for the annual Bev Ball Classic. The rest of the pre-district schedule includes a home match with Jim Ned (Aug. 15), the Granbury tournament (Aug. 17-19), a trip to Abilene High (Aug. 29), consecutive home dates against Graham (Sept. 1), Wall (Sept. 5), Glen Rose (Sept. 8) and Breckenridge (Sept. 12), followed by road games at Abilene Cooper (Sept. 15) and Fredericksburg (Sept. 19).

“Before district starts I want to see consistency in our play,” Kennedy said. “We do a lot of things right, and have amazing moments, but to get to the top of district we will have to be more consistent.”

District 5-4A action commences Sept. 22 at Big Spring followed by a trip to Sweetwater (Sept. 26), a home match with Snyder (Oct. 3) and a visit to defending district champion Abilene Wylie (Oct. 6). Brownwood closes district with three of its last four matches at home — Big Spring (Oct. 12), Sweetwater (Oct. 13) and Wylie (Oct. 24). The lone road game in that stretch is at Snyder (Oct. 20).

“Obviously we want to see the district shaping up in our favor, we want to win district this year,” Kennedy said. “Last year we weren’t able to get past Wylie for the title, but I believe this year will be different. We play in a tough district so we aren’t counting anyone out of the running. We will focus on each team one game at a time.”

The Lady Lions have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since the 2008 run to the state championship game, but Kennedy believes this year's squad possesses the ability to make a deep postseason push.

“This team can be among the best in the state of Texas,” Kennedy said. “But to reach their full potential this year these girls are going to have to give me 110 percent in practice every single day, focus, and believe in themselves.”