Lucas Lovejoy dominated the late first decade of the 2000s, winning five state volleyball championships from 2008-12.
That's not bad considering Lovejoy High School itself opened in 2006.
Since then the Leopards have been to the State Tournament every other year (2014, 16, 18) until making a return trip this season. They have one other state title (2014).
That "drought" ended Saturday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland as the Leopards swept Canyon Randall High School, 3-0 (27-25, 25-17, 25- ).Lovejoy, which was ranked No. 1 in the state from the first day of the rankings, finishes with a dazzling 47-5 record while Randall, under first-year head coach Haleigh Burns, caps off a 43-4 season with the silver medal.
"It's funny," Lovejoy coach Ryan Mitchell admitted after the match. "There are coaches who go longer than five years without a state title, and others who may never get one. We're blessed to have been to state so many times. It seems weird to say 'drought' in relation to state titles."
Randall, which made it to the state semifinals last year under now-Bushland head coach Jason Culpepper, kept things competitive throughout but could never put together that one scoring streak that would put them over the top.
The held leads of 18-15 and 22-21 in Set 1, but Cecily Braumschriber had three kills on five serves, the last tying the set at 25-all. Back-to-back unforced errors by Randall finished off the first set for Lovejoy, 27-25.
Set 2 was tied several times early - at Points 6, 7, 9, 12 and 14. But Bramschriber, who won the Tournament MVP award with 20 kills and seven digs, took matters into her own hands again. She hammered three straight kills to give Lovejoy a 19-15 lead; teammate Grace Milliken (three kills and one total block) put down another to extend it to 20-15. Bramschriber hit two more, Ellie Jonke (11 kills, one dig) had one before Brynn Eggar, six kills, one total block and one dig) closed out the second set, 25-17.
The script pretty much fell the same way in Set 3.
Randall stayed close and had a couple leads but eventually Lovejoy took command. This time they ran off a 7-0 scoring spurt after the match had been tied at 15-all; Bramschriber had two kills and Averi Carlson 44 assists, nine digs, three kills and one total block) added one more.
Appropriately, Bramschriber capped off the match with a kill and Lovejoy ended a five year "drought" with its seventh state championship in the school's 14th year of existence.
Mitchell, who started the Lovejoy program in 2006 and coached the team to its first five state titles, left in 2013 to take over at Southlake Carroll, He left there in 2016 and, after a year off, came back to Lovejoy last season as an assistant under Jason Nicholson, who coached the Leopards to their 2014 championship.
Last year Lovejoy lost the state championship match to upstart Kingwood Park out of Houston in three sets. Mitchell was elevated to the head coaching position during the off-season.
Mitchell did admit that while the Lovejoy community will certainly celebrate the championship, he may be in trouble with his own wife.
"I went over and pointed to some students involved in a leadership group at Lovejoy and applauded them after the win," he revealed. "We laughed because I promised them I'd let them shave my head if we won the state championship. Well, from what I hear, there's a pep rally next week and I'll be losing my hair."
"My wife doesn't know this just yet," he chuckled. "I'm going to be in trouble with her. I'm going to have to take our Christmas photos with a hat on."
About his "homecoming," per se, Mitchell was quite reflective.
"Lovejoy is home for me," he declared. "Once you're here you never want to work or coach anywhere else. Volleyball was the first sport here in 2006; the fans took to it quickly and our support has been fantastic. This is a special group of girls; they've worked very hard and deserve all they accomplished."
Randall was led by Brianna Ford, who pounded 13 kills, made eight digs, had one total block and served one ace. She was joined on the stat sheet by teammates Toryn Barrientos (16 assists, eight digs, one ace); Zoe Parker (six digs, six kills, three aces and one solo block); Peyton Irwin (11 digs, and four assists); and, Stevie Reynecke (four kills, four total blocks, one ace and one dig).
First-year Randall coach Haleigh Burns, who left her own alma mater (Caprock) to come over to Randall, was thrilled with the opportunity presented by the program.
"I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls to work with in my first year at any school," Burns stated. "These girls did a great job buying into what we wanted to accomplish; there was never a hesitation on their part, even though I was new to them.
"Tonight's loss wasn't a representative picture of how our season really went. Regardless of tonight's loss, we had a season the girls should be proud. And they know volleyball isn't the 'end all' either. The seniors will graduate and become great women and great leaders wherever they go."
A season full of effort – by both coaches and student-athletes. A season full of travel – by teams, families and fans. This past weekend, a lot of tears – both of joy and of sorrow.
All of it leading up to this week.
Welcome to State Tournament Week for UIL volleyball.
To use a basketball term, it's Final Four time for 24 teams in the six UIL classifications – from small-town 1A up to the big-school Class 6A.
Here's some information and thoughts about this year's tournament and the results of each Regional Finals match, with some personal notes about Regionals Semifinals to follow: