With just over two weeks remaining until the start of District 2-3A volleyball action, the No. 5 Brownwood Lady Lions may not sport the most attractive record — but that’s by design.

Once again head coach Mary Steed has pieced together a grueling non-district schedule for the Lady Lions in an attempt to prepare them for district and postseason play. The plan worked to perfection last season as Brownwood reached the Class 3A state championship game.

Following a month-long stretch of games against mostly Class 4A and 5A opponents, the Lady Lions (10-10) will face a couple of familiar foes at Warren Gym this week.

Former Class 4A district rival Midway visits at 6 tonight, while No. 7 Fredericksburg comes calling at 6 p.m. Friday in a rematch of last year’s Region I-3A championship.

With just nine players on the varsity roster — and only three returnees back from last year’s state finalist squad — the Lady Lions have battled bouts of inconsistency thus far. A few injuries and an occasional sickness here and there have also presented some trying times for Brownwood early.

“We could be doing better than we’re doing right now, but we’re struggling a little bit with people being sick and injuries,” said senior Julie Kennedy. “We have a small number of players on the team, so that is setting us back a little bit right now. We don’t have a lot of experience playing together.”

The demanding pre-district schedule might have taken its toll on a lesser team, but the Lady Lions have instead shown significant improvement over the last few weeks. A key moment of growth for the squad came just this past Friday when the Lady Lions rallied past No. 14 Llano for a 16-25, 25-15, 25-17, 17-25, 15-12 home victory.

“I’m proud of how far along our team has come,” said senior Sheldyn Miller. “The newcomers are stepping up.”

Added fellow senior Chloe Geye, “For only having three seniors coming back from last year’s team, we’re pretty stout. (Most of the newcomers) only played freshman ball and now they’re having to step up. They didn’t have a year to sit on the bench and watch like Sheldyn and I did. But they’re the lucky ones, they get to step in right away and play.”

Brownwood and Midway are no strangers, having played each other eight times in a four-year span as district rivals, which concluded in 2007. But the rivalry has continued, as this will mark the third non-district meeting in the last two seasons, none of which the Lady Lions have been able to wrestle away from the Pantherettes.

“It’s our senior year, and hopefully we can beat Midway before we leave,” Geye said.

The Lady Lions and Pantherettes appear more evenly matched this season than in years past as the two squads have already squared off once. In Justin Northwest tournament pool play, Midway came away with a 25-8, 20-25, 25-19 win.

“They didn’t overpower us, they just know where to put the ball,” Geye said.

Miller joked that the 6 p.m. start time should aid the Lady Lions as Brownwood met Midway on a Friday morning the first time.

“That was in the morning, and this is in the afternoon, so we’ll be awake,” Miller said.

Following the Midway showdown, Fredericksburg comes to town Friday with revenge on its mind. The Lady Lions denied Fredericksburg a chance to compete in the state tournament last fall.

“They’re going to be gunning for us, that’s for sure,” Geye said.

Unlike their games with Midway, the Lady Lions have been able to scratch out recent victories against Fredericksburg. Along with the regional championship win last season, the Lady Lions also traveled to Fredericksburg and came away with a four-set victory two matches prior to the start of District 2-3A action.

Though this week’s tasks are daunting, the Lady Lions have grown accustomed to the challenges and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“They’re not going to be easy, and we don’t want to play easy teams. We just want to get better,” Miller said. “We play the hard teams so we can point out our weaknesses.”

The Lady Lions will have three more non-district contests — home against Abilene Cooper (Sept. 15), at Canyon Lake (Sept. 18) and home against Bartlett (Sept. 22) — before beginning defense of their 2-3A championship Sept. 25 at home against Snyder.

Between now and the district opener, the Lady Lions’ main focus is to fine tune their chemistry.

“We want to get everything figured out team-wise, as far as what we’re doing,” Kennedy said.

As for this week, however, the Lady Lions would like nothing more than to put forth a solid showing in front of a raucous crowd at Warren Gym.

“There’s no football game or anything else going on Tuesday, so we hope our fans come pack the gym,” Geye said.