From Eight to Great: Splendora volleyball's historic turnaround
HOUSTON - If you're looking for the best story of the 2019 Texas high school volleyball playoffs, then you need to take the drive up to Splendora, Texas.
Last season, the LadyCats weren't a playoff team. Not even close. Splendora, under first-year coach DaVette McCall, only won a total of eight matches in 2018 with only three returners from the year's previous squad and only one senior.
A year later - with 11 returners - improve the win mark by 23 to an impressive 31-14 and tonight, the Splendora volleyball program will play in its first-ever Regional Tournament in Bryan.
"We really focused in on hard workouts in the offseason to get our mental game up because I knew that was one of our weaknesses last year was staying mentally focused and being mentally tough," McCall said. "We went straight four workouts a week and one day of volleyball to focus on that mental part first. We focused on the skill after that.
"The girls bought into the program. Bought into what I was doing and without that you don't have a successful team, so I have to give them credit to be following what I'm saying."
Going through an eight-win season can be tough on any team, especially when you open the season 0-7 and then experiencing a pair of four-match losing streaks throughout.
Despite getting only eight wins - just two in district play - McCall said there were plenty of bright spots and the message to the team consistently had to be the same.
"The girls worked so hard last year and I just remember telling them 'Keep working hard in practice, the wins are going to fall'," she said. "They busted their butt in practice last year and they just never fell. They just kept believing in me."
In 2019 - the wins have definitely fell, especially during the playoffs.
A 3-0 win over Sweeny in the Area round pushed Splendora into the Regional Quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. Then earlier this week, a 3-0 victory over Little Cypress-Mauriceville made history for the program.
"We enjoyed the moment," McCall said. "I tell them to enjoy every moment because there will never be another team like this team. We lose seniors and we roll over every year, so I really try to stress that point of stay focused in the now and enjoy the now because there will never be a now again."
So, where has all the offense come from?
A trio of LadyCats have contributed to that aspect, led by sophomore JaLynn Knight, who leads the team with 271 kills this season. Seniors Allison Jones and Shaelyn Sanders are just behind with 264 and 212 kills, respectively.
"It's awesome, they've done such a great job of finding the holes in the defense and putting the ball down when needed," McCall said. "I love watching them work."
Defensively, Knight leads the team with 70 blocks, while Kayla Martin has a team-best 511 digs, followed by Jones' 353. The surprise has been freshman Falon Buford.
Buford stepped in for Jones, who was able to slide to the outside at hitter, and has come in and ran a 5-1 offense to perfection leading the team with 798 assists and 307 digs.
"It has really helped us out a lot to allow Ally to be an outside hitter and get those big stats and help us out on the offensive side," McCall said.
Now, the LadyCats are two wins away from playing in their first-ever UIL Volleyball State Tournament in Garland.
"It's amazing after all the hard work they've put in," McCall said. "They're going in expecting to win now and that was their only option. We're going to keep looking forward. This year, our saying is 'Eyes Forward'. Every single point that's our goal, no matter if we won the point or lost the point we're going to keep our 'Eyes Forward'."
Splendora faces Carthage tonight at Bryan High School in the regional semifinal with first serve set for 6 p.m.