Analyze This: Top-ranked Lady Leopards break their team down
Usually its struggling squads that try to regroup and reevaluate what they do.
But Lovejoy, the only volleyball program in Texas history to win four straight Class 3A State Championships, isn't like most teams.
That's why the Lady Leopards deconstructed their team over the past week.
"We took a brutally honest look at ourselves," said Ryan Mitchell, Lovejoy head coach. "We looked at tape from the perspective of if we were another team, how would we attack us. It can be tough to do that when you are 30-4 and on top of (Class) 4A and there were some things that I'm sure were hard for all of us to hear, but it is something that was extremely important because we didn't want these things to fester."
The discussions appeared to pay off.
"We did a lot of film work, took a hard look at our deficiencies and I think we responded with our best week in awhile," Mitchell said. "From our practices to our play on the court in the actual matches, we looked very sharp."
Lovejoy, which improved to 6-0 in District 13-4A and 32-4 overall Tuesday night with a sweep of Denison (25-11, 25-10, 25-1 with the last 18 points of Game 3 won on the serve of senior Brooke Ray), also picked up wins over McKinney North and Wylie East in the past week. The Lady Leopards defeated the Lady Bulldogs (25-11, 25-12, 25-13) and the Lady Raiders (25-14, 25-9, 25-20) with senior Mallorie Puckett posting 22 kills, senior Shannon Connell dishing out 48 assists and senior Bailey Martin amassing 25 digs.
"Our setting improved dramatically," Mitchell said, "and we had a much better ace to error ratio."
The contributions of Connell are of particular note considering Lovejoy's passing had sagged in the early phases of district.
"Shannon played very well," Mitchell said. "She seems to have turned a corner."
Mitchell also noted the solid contributions of Ray and freshman Sarah Langs.
"Brooke continues to improve and lead our defense," he said, "while Sarah continues to impress."
Lovejoy added senior Ebony Nwanebu, who had been nursing an ankle injury, back to the lineup Tuesday and the team could use the additional weapons as they face their first district test Friday. Lovejoy, which is halfway through a four-match homestand, will host Wylie at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Lady Pirates and Lady Leopards are tied for first in 13-4A.
"That will be a good match for us," Mitchell said. "The girls want to win the first half of district because they want to win a district championship, so this will provide us with an opportunity to break down film, scout and execute a game plan."
Lovejoy remains No. 1
The latest Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 4A state poll was released Monday and, as has been the case since the start of the season, Lovejoy is ranked No. 1.
"Playing the top teams every year while we were in 3A, I think we earned a lot of respect around the state as having a quality program," Mitchell said. "And then we did so well in the preseason this year, so I think that has helped us get to and stay at No. 1."
This ranking is nothing new.
"I think the girls got really excited that first year we reached No. 1," Mitchell said, "but I don't think they have done a lot of poll watching since then. They are more concerned with focusing on making improvements to our team."
Mitchell isn't as indifferent to the polls though as he knows about Friendswood, which is ranked No. 2 by the TGCA and No. 9 in LoneStarVolleyball's Texas Top 20. The Lady Mustangs are the second-highest ranked 4A team in that poll, behind only the Lady Leopards (No. 3).
"Friendswood is a team that is on my radar," Mitchell said. "I've been told they are a team that can beat us."