On August 5, with most of the community attention focused on the beginning of football practice at Panther Stadium, Van Alstyne volleyball coach Miranda Sun and her staff kicked off the 2013 volleyball season.
An enthusiastic group of nearly 40 girls reported for practice, running a mile on the stadium track before moving inside for work on their game.
The varsity roster listed six seniors; however, Sun pointed out that only two, Alee Adams and Rebecca Franklin, brought varsity experience into the season.
“We’re going to be young as far as the experience level goes, but I’m excited about this group,” said Sun in a preseason interview. “We finished fourth in the district last year and that is not a playoff spot.”
After a pair of scrimmages, the Lady Panthers jumped into regular season play at the Collin County Spike Fest. An always-tough field in that event awaited and Van Alstyne was unable to pull off any upsets in its season opener.
The Lady Panthers prevailed over Denison in its home opener with a 3-1 win to top the Lady Jackets, then blanked Tom Bean in a 3-0 sweep.
In the Prosper tournament, Van Alstyne won a pair of matches, and after beating S&S, the Lady Panthers record stood at 5-8.
Van Alstyne won two of its next three matches, beating Whitewright and Nocona, but losing to a talented Pottsboro team.
Sherman provided the opposition in Van Alstyne’s next match, and the Lady Bearcats, a strong, Class 4A program, swept the match.
Van Alstyne got back on the winning track, hosting Texoma Christian School as Franklin sent in nine kills and the Lady Panthers dominated in a three-game sweep. Ellis Perkins added seven kills and Adams had 36 assists in the match.
On Sept. 13, the Lady Panthers opened district play by traveling to Pilot Point. The Lady Bearcats fielded a strong and experienced team and swept Van Alstyne in the district opener.
Van Alstyne evened its loop record at 1-1 as it beat Farmersville in a match played at the middle school due to repairs to the high school court. The two teams were evenly matched, as they would prove over the course of the season. All four sets were closely contested but the Lady Panthers prevailed, winning three straight sets after Farmersville had taken the opening game.
Leonard and Sunnyvale were next on the Van Alstyne agenda and the Lady Panthers were on their game in both matches, winning to boost their district record to 3-1.
The state-ranked Caddo Mills Lady Foxes stopped that modest win streak, sweeping the match 3-0. Van Alstyne gave the fourth-ranked Lady Foxes a battle in the opening two sets before dropping three-point and five-point losses.
Van Alstyne closed out the first half of District 12-2A play with a 3-0 loss to Gunter.
The three top teams in the district, Caddo Mills, Gunter and Pilot Point, were all ranked in the state’s top 20 among Class 2A volleyball teams, and Van Alstyne’s playoff hopes would be concentrated on that coveted fourth-place position in the league.
Farmersville was obviously the biggest challenge to Van Alstyne for that final playoff berth, and the Lady Farmers protected their home court when district play resumed on Oct. 11.
It took six extra points to decided the first set winner as Farmersville took the 31-29 win. Van Alstyne bounced back in the second set, taking an early lead and never giving it up in a 25-20 victory.
The length of the Lady Farmers took over for the remainder of the match as Haven Neal and Airanna Brooks led their team to back-to-back winning sets to take the match.
Now 3-5 in district play and one game behind Farmersville, Van Alstyne needed wins over Leonard and Sunnyvale, and some outside help, to get back in the playoff race.
The Lady Panthers took care of business on the road, sweeping two matches, 6-0, before hosting Caddo Mills on senior night.
The Lady Foxes were not in the best of moods coming into the match at Van Alstyne, having just lost to Pilot Point for their first league defeat.
Van Alstyne got off to a good start in the first set as senior Franklin sent in a pair of kills to get the Lady Panthers offense untracked.
The two teams traded points, neither being able to get any distance on the scoreboard. A late kill by Ellie Perkins put the Lady Panthers on top 23-21, and after giving up a point, a Lady Fox miscue made it a 24-22 game. Molly McQuirk, who had stepped into the number one setters role, pushed home a winner to give Van Alstyne the first set win.
Caddo Mills came back to sweep the match and after an open date, the Lady Panthers closed out the regular season in Gunter.
After losing to the Lady Tigers, Van Alstyne and Farmersville finished the regular season tied with 5-7 records in district play. The two teams would meet for the third time, this one in Anna, in a play-in match to determine the district’s fourth place team.
Van Alsytne got off to a slow start in the match, falling behind 7-0 before mounting a comeback. A kill by Franklin, followed by her two service winners, cut the Lady Farmers lead down to one.
After Farmersville had made a short run, Ellie Perkins came up with three consecutive blocks to tie the contest at 13-13. Peyton Welch, who was promoted to the varsity late in the regular season, got hot from the service line, pounding in four consecutive aces to give Van Alstyne a 17-13 lead. The Lady Panthers went on to win the set, 25-20.
Van Alstyne could never sustain any offensive momentum for the remainder of the match and saw its playoff hopes dashed as Farmersville won the next three sets to earn that final postseason berth.
In postseason honors, Franklin was recognized for her final season’s play with a first-team selection on the District 12-2A, all-district squad.
Honorable mention awards went to Molly McQuirk, Maddison O’Hanlon, Jaden England, Raigan Servati, Ellie Perkins and Shelby Litzkow.
In some promising news for the future, the Van Alstyne junior varsity White team went through district play undefeated.
The Lady Panthers will compete in Class 3A, District 13, an eight-team district composed of squads from Caddo Mills, Commerce, Farmersville, Leonard, Lone Oak, Tom Bean and Whitewright.
Just as in Howe, the program lost a coach after the season. After three years, Miranda Sun left the Van Alstyne program. Former Anna junior varsity volleyball coach LeQuia Collins will take over as head volleyball coach for the Lady Panthers next season. Collins attended Grambling State University on a volleyball scholarship and after graduation she received a Master’s degree from Texas A&M Commerce. She had coached and taught for six years.