Fort Worth Carter-Riverside seniors Malia Merriman, Iliene Chavez and Jasmine Meraz were only freshmen when the varsity team last made the playoffs in 2015.
It was a historic moment because it snapped a 17-year playoff drought.
All three seniors – actually everyone on this year’s team - weren’t even born yet when the program last finished second in the district standings.
Carter-Riverside, which won 27 games combined the previous three seasons, made more history this season when it finished 21-12 overall. Its 12-2 mark in 6-5A was good enough for second place, which was the Eagles’ best district finish since 1997.
“It’s pretty great that we’re putting history into Carter,” Chavez said. “It’s been the craziest thing to happen and I’m really excited it’s happening my senior year.”
The Eagles start bi-district against Mansfield Legacy at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Arlington Martin. There’s no recollection of when their last playoff win was.
“That’s been our biggest goal,” Merriman said. “We haven’t had a volleyball banner in here in 21 years. People doubted us, but we had the mentality to take us there. We hope to make more history on Monday.”
Head coach Mario Carmona is in his second year, but ninth overall, after spending seven seasons as a junior varsity coach with the Eagles. He also serves as the girls head soccer coach.
Carmona wrote down ‘district champs’ to begin the season and they nearly reached it.
“I wanted them to be champs and we set our minds to it. It’s still a great season for us,” Carmona said. “No one saw us coming.”
The Eagles took district champ Arlington Heights to four sets back in September and were swept during their second meeting.
But Carter-Riverside opened the season against Heights and won 27-25, 25-22, 25-22.
Merriman registered 12 kills and six blocks while junior Kiera Grant added nine blocks.
“That game was an indication on what we could do this season,” Carmona said. “If we could do everything correct, we thought we could beat everyone else in district.”
“We knew after beating them that we could do this,” Chavez added. “We knew that we were capable to do more things.”
Most of the players have been playing with each other since middle school. Chavez, Merriman and junior Hashley Hernandez have all been in volleyball for six years.
“All the girls and even coach Carmona have a great understanding of one another,” Hernandez said. “We have great chemistry. It’s not always about being the best team skill wise, but it’s about who has the best bond as a team. We don’t see each other as teammates, but as family. It’s pretty exciting.”
The off-season was also fairly new to Carter-Riverside. Despite not having a single club player on the team, Carmona took more advantage in spring and summer leagues, and the girls went to more open gym sessions.
“I wanted the kids to have more exposure. They played a lot more. I had them in summer leagues at Haltom and Chisholm Trail,” Carmona said. “I love their hustle. We like to call ourselves ‘scrappy.’”
“We would put in the work even on weekends and during breaks,” Hernandez added. “We even had a Navy trainer come in and help us mentally so we could compete in high pressure situations.”
The support around the school and community has grown. Carter-Riverside used to have only one section of its stands full – now the entire gym is full with seats hard to come by.
“We’ll have so much people at our games now, and they even travel to our away games too,” said Merriman, who leads the team with 311 kills, a .372 hitting percentage and 104 blocks. “We have a lot of support from the students and staff, and we thank them.”
Grant has added 100 blocks while Meraz leads with 95 aces. Chavez had a team-high 338 digs.
But Carter-Riverside isn’t the only Fort Worth ISD team making noise this year.
North Side finished third behind the Eagles at 10-4, and had its most wins since 2009, snapping an 8-year playoff drought.
Eastern Hills was 1-39 the previous two years, but the Highlanders won eight games this season and are also playoff bound.
Poly didn’t make the playoffs, but won 11 games. The Parrots were 1-38 the previous two seasons and last won multiple games since 2011. They also won their first district game since 2012 and finished 4-10.
Paschal and Benbrook combined to win 52 games and Western Hills clinched a No. 3 seed.