High School Volleyball

This team prepared for tough Class 6A competition for two years. It’s paid off

Nelson senior libero Elle Duis says her team’s record-setting playoff run came from the team’s refusal to quit.
Nelson senior libero Elle Duis says her team’s record-setting playoff run came from the team’s refusal to quit. Courtesy

Trophy Club Byron Nelson’s volleyball program has never backed down from the challenges that come with being a Class 6A school.

The Lady Bobcats have never missed the postseason in school history, including all three years at the highest level beginning in 2014. Long before it ever moved up in classifications, head coach Libby Pacheco repeated the talking points about 6A to where it echoed in her player’s ears.

Still, there needed to be that win to cross the threshold and validate what she had been preaching.

Tuesday’s four-set Region I quarterfinal victory over Southlake Carroll became that. Nelson is in the 6A regional tournament for the first time.

“It was matter of our culture of not quitting,” senior libero Elle Duis said. “Everybody on this team knows we can go far and that we can be successful in 6A.”

Nelson is the newcomer to this veteran field. The Lady Bobcats, who are enjoying a record-setting year at 38-9, meet traditional power Arlington Martin (40-5) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 at Glen Rose.

If they can get through that, they turn around to play either reigning state champion and fellow 5-6A rival Lewisville Hebron (38-7) or state power Weatherford (40-6) in Saturday’s regional title game at 1 p.m. Weatherford-Hebron follows Nelson-Martin at 8 p.m.

Pacheco began preparing for this move as early as 2012. When the Trophy Club area grew rapidly, it became inevitable Nelson would move from 5A to 6A.

The kind of volleyball played at the top is more balanced from team to team. There is more athleticism. The skill level is advanced. The pace is faster. Rosters are filled with club players. The 6A game is more about strategy and playing smarter.

To prepare for the future, Pacheco changed the work habits and created an environment where there was pressure on every serve, pass, dig and clash at the net. She also scheduled the program in preseason tournaments heavy with 6A program. Pacheco had coached at this level from 2005-2008 at Colleyville Heritage when it was a 5A school, the highest class back then.

“I just kept telling them this is what 6A is like, this is what 6A is like,” Pacheco said. “In 5A, it might seem inconsequential with a silly error. You could overcome it. But we couldn’t have that because it was going to have a huge effect in 6A. I wanted to make everything smoother.”

Competing is one thing. Succeeding points to change. A signal things might have been turning occurred in August when Nelson won the Denton Ryan tournament. During the District 5-6A season, it finished tied with Carroll for second place after splitting with the Lady Dragons. So this match was been there done that. It became a matter of staying in the moment regardless of the momentum shifts.

“When you play a game against a team like Carroll, you have to handle the ups and downs,” senior outside hitter Sanaa Barnes said. “You just know you have to pick it up. It’s one thing to get there. But now you have to make it happen.”

As groundbreaking as this season has been, few will give Nelson great odds of advancing past Friday. Yet the program is where Pacheco wants it to be. On Wednesday, Barnes signed with Villanova. Duis signed with Colorado School of Mines.

Pacheco and players believe this playoff run is about doing a little more and giving a little more that allows a season to continue in the second weekend of November. All the talk and wishing has greeted the other side.

“We’re here to show up and play,” Duis said. “We want to show that Byron Nelson volleyball is one of the top programs in the state of Texas. This is the standard we want to set.”