For all of North Crowley’s hard work this year, the reward might be a first-round playoff volleyball matchup with No. 2 state-ranked Southlake Carroll.
But Stephanie Cunningham, in her eighth season as North Crowley’s head coach, said her team is excited at any postseason prospects.
“Whoever we play, this team is ready to compete,” Cunningham said. “This team is much different from my teams of the past because they have this competitive fire. They go at it just in practice every day.”
North Crowley (19-18, 8-4), which already has secured a playoff spot, is tied with Arlington Lamar (19-19, 8-4) for third place in District 3-5A with two games remaining.
But the Panthers face second-place Arlington Martin (30-10, 11-1) and Lamar to close the regular season.
North Crowley lost in four sets to Martin and in five sets to Lamar during the first round of district play.
“It was frustrating to say the least because we were a couple of players short and we still handled ourselves well,” Cunningham said. “They both have to come here now and I feel like we’re a more confident team than we were last time around.”
This will be the Panthers’ second consecutive postseason and perhaps Cunningham’s most competitive.
Her 2009 team won the district title on its way to a 30-7 record. But Cunningham said this year’s team has a more expansive talent base, partly because a second middle school feeds into her program.
“Having those additional kids, coupled with the kind of athletes this school produces, just means we’re going to get better and better,” she said. “The parents are also investing more time in their kids’ training and preparation to play at this level.”
North Crowley, which will graduate only two players this year, is not only stacked with underclassmen, but also with offensive fireworks.
Junior Rachel Henderson (224 kills) and sophomore Izzie Hinton (198) are topped in kills only by senior Alex Mitchell.
Mitchell has 258 kills in her third varsity season.
Another sophomore, Courtney Bolf, has 164 kills despite missing five games to injury.
Bolf is second on the team in digs with 267 while junior Bayli Kemp leads the teams in assists with 931.
“With Courtney, we’ll be at full strength facing Martin and Lamar,” Cunningham said. “We have a very balanced offense and we mix it up well enough to get defenses out of position.”
Azle for final spot?
Azle is tied with Denton and Wichita Falls Rider in the race for the final two playoff spots in District 5-4A and looks to be in the driver’s seat with two games remaining.
Azle (20-14, 7-5) will face Denton and Wichita Falls High to close the district slate.
But it took the Hornets five sets to defeat both teams in the first half of district play, so the road isn’t easy.
Rider will face district co-leader Denton Guyer in one of its final two matches.
6-4A playoff possible
Saginaw will be watching closely as Saginaw Chisholm Trail and Birdville square off Friday in a District 6-4A match.
A win by the fourth-place Hawks (22-17, 9-5) means Chisholm Trail (19-15, 11-3) would fall to third place in district and Saginaw (26-9, 11-3) likely would finish alone in second place.
If Saginaw and Chisholm Trail finish district play tied Tuesday, they will meet in a one-match playoff to determine the second and third playoff seeds.
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