Brownwood’s volleyball season began with only two players on the entire roster boasting varsity experience. A short two months and 32 matches later, the Lady Lions — comprised of four sophomores, six juniors and a pair of seniors — are all grown up and preparing for the program’s fourth straight appearance in the postseason.
The Lady Lions (20-12, 6-4 in District 16-4A) will battle the District 15-4A second seeded Midlothian Lady Panthers (13-10, 9-3) in Region II-4A bi-district playoff action at 3 p.m. Saturday at Granbury High School.
“The maturation of a team and a player is such a privilege to watch,” said Lady Lions head coach Mary Steed. “The process tends to be both painful and seemingly slow, but the results are so fulfilling and exciting to behold. The girls matured physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as both athletes and team players. Who they are today is evidenced by both their individual and team performances.”
Brownwood’s growth as a team was aided by a tough schedule, which included a pair of state-ranked district rivals. The Lady Lions’ only losses in 16-4A action came to top-ranked and undefeated Midway, along with 11th-ranked Copperas Cove.
“Playing state-ranked teams can bring out both the best in a team and the worst in a team,” Steed said. “I feel that either way it is useful knowledge that can be beneficial to both the coach and the players. The greatest knowledge is the knowledge gained about oneself. How one responds to adversity, success, failure, wins, losses, etc., sets up life lessons as well.
“Our responses to the challenges we faced playing Midway and Cove accelerated our training, made us improve on our weaknesses that were exposed, and instilled in us a competitive drive and focus that has helped us to be successful. We don’t feel there is anyone out there that can be much better than what we have had to play this season.”
Despite this group’s lack of postseason experience, Steed is not concerned as the Lady Lions have proven to be quick learners.
“I used to worry about my team feeling intimidated by playoff teams and the playoff atmosphere,” Steed said. “This team has seen and experienced first hand the best of the best supposedly. They have risen to these challenges and understand the meaning of Lady Lion pride, preparation and passion. These girls, like any Brownwood athlete, leave it all on the court with no regrets.”
Midlothian — which defeated Waxahachie 25-15, 25-22, 13-25, 27-25 in a seeding playoff match Monday — has not shied away from stiff competition either. The Lady Panthers twice faced No. 8 Red Oak in district play and also battled No. 3 Highland Park and No. 16 Frisco Centennial, among others, in non-district action.
The Lady Panthers are led by Alicia Green (123 kills, 42 blocks), Jackie Nunn (116 kills), Rachael Waters (95 assists), Regan Roberts (72 assists), Cameron Hartson (19 aces, 36 blocks) and Meghan Morrow (19 aces).
“Midlothian’s program, coaching staff and players are very experienced and well prepared,” Steed said. “There is never a year that I know of that Midlothian is not a contender for state. They have strong outside hitters and very good middles. Accompany this with good setting and I believe Midlothian to be a solid opponent.”
Heading into their showdown, the Lady Lions have many of the same strengths as Midlothian. Brownwood has been spurred on by the hitting of Flynn Harrell, Ta’Kenda Cotton and LaCresha Williams on the outside, along with Julie Kennedy, Moochie Galloway, Chloe Geye and Stephanie Jordy in the middle.
“We are very capable and very powerful offensively and, at times, we can hurt teams from both middle and outside attacks,” Steed said. “Our transition from defense to offense looks great because of great setting and our serving is improving and looking strong at this time.
“If we have a weakness, our service receive can, at times, break down momentarily. With refocusing and determination, the girls have learned how to accept the responsibility and challenge of good passing, thus improving it with each match.”
Alex Williams and RaeLee Taylor have shared the setter duties, while defensive specialists along the back row include Shalisa Hall, Jalisa Hall and Ashley Combs.
Brownwood is riding a three-game win streak into postseason play — including Tuesday’s 23-25, 27-25, 20-25, 25-23, 15-9 victory over Wolfforth Frenship in a playoff warm-up — and the Lady Lions have won eight of their last 12 matches overall.
Steed listed five keys for the Lady Lions as they attempt to embark on their deepest postseason run since 2004. Brownwood reached the regional quarterfinals that year, but suffered opening-round defeats to Waxahachie last season and Midlothian in 2005.
“We have to have tough serves with good location, good passing and service receiving, we must transition well from defense to offense, be smart and consistent with our setting and be inspired and focused with our defensive play,” Steed said.
Saturday’s winner will advance to face District 14-4A champion Dallas South Oak Cliff in the Region II-4A area round.