Lady Dawg Volleyball dominates Cedar Creek in home opener
By TJ MAXWELL
Every season Copperas Cove head volleyball coach and girls’ athletic coordinator Cari Lowery has reason to be optimistic heading into the season, but less COVID-19 restrictions and experience at some key positions adds a little pep in her step for the 2021 campaign.
“It’s exciting to be on the court, and to be able to shake somebody's hand and switch sides and do all that stuff and I just hope it holds on,” said Lowery. “We’ve got those five seniors back and it sounds like you got all this experience, but in reality, they played like 12 games last year and they didn't get any tournaments. We're about to start tournament season on Thursday and they've never been in a varsity tournament season. There wasn't any club season for them there weren’t any leagues or anything like that, but they're working hard and we did strength and conditioning and all that stuff all summer and they were here.”
There is also concern.
After playing just 20 games in 2020 due to the pandemic, Lowery hopes to get in a full schedule in 2021, but rapidly rising cases, particularly among youth, may derail those chances.
“I'm trying not to think like that, but we do (have contingency plans),” she said. “I thought we were done, and I thought we were going to be able to keep rolling. We're letting kids and coaches wear a mask or do whatever they feel comfortable with or not comfortable with.
“I was just thinking I just shook 14 hands and I probably should keep some disinfectant with me. It’s nothing personal on anybody. You just don’t know now, but I've had the shot and I'm good.”
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Lowery and her squad in their season home opener Tuesday afternoon where they swept the Cedar Creek Lady Eagles 3-0 (25-9, 25-10, 25-12) to open the season with a win.
Big kills by senior Kyra Gaston and a block by senior Jiya Edwards and some strong defense by two-time 12-6A defensive Player of the Year Emma Wasiak helped the Lady Dawgs make quick work of the Lady Eagles in set one.
Cedar Creek kept it a little closer in the early goings of set two, leading 4-3 through seven points, but kills by Gaston off assists by junior setter Jakhi Smith and several Gaston aces helped Cove to a 17-3 run and a 20-7 lead in the set.
A kill by Cedar Creek freshman Mackenzie Collins and an ace by freshman Linda Martinez slowed the Lady Dawgs briefly until a kill and block by junior Ashanti Wright helped push it to set point before a kill by senior Jamesia Moody off the assist by junior Alana Hairston closed the set 25-10.
In the closeout set, the Lady Dawgs again began with a deficit, trailing 3-1 after an ace by Cedar Creek freshman Gianna Del Bosque.
Kills by Gaston and Edwards, along with an ace by junior Layla Cooks, helped flip the lead back to Cove for a 9-4 advantage.
A kill by Cedar Creek junior Vanessa Rodriguez and a couple errors by the Lady Dawgs allowed the Lady Eagles to pull within two, 9-7, before another Gaston kill and Wright block an 8-1 run for a 17-9 Cove lead. Kills by Edwards and service points by Smith contributed to the run.
A block by Lady Eagles freshman Gracyn Hentshel was answered by a block from Moddy and two more from Gaston for the 20-11 score.
A four-hit call against Cove gave Cedar Creek their last score before and ace by Edwards and a pair of errors by the Lady Eagles closed out the set 25-12 and match 3-0.
“Kyra (Gaston) had a great game, and Jamesia (Moody) is coming along and she's going to have a great season,” said Lowery. “Emma (Wasiak) is back for the third year on varsity and that makes a huge difference and then Jiya (Edwards) as well. It's a good core and then we’ve just got to find the pieces to fit around and how it all fit together. I've got some young ones too.”
In a rare occurrence, the Lady Dawgs have four players on the roster listed at six-feet or taller. Gaston, junior Aaliyah Butler, sophomore Iliana Buitron and freshman Chloe Tuiasosopo all break six feet.
“It’s exciting,” Lowery said about her taller team. “Chloe Tuiasosopo is a freshman, and she came in six foot. The game is still very fast for her, but she’s a smart kid, she's a competitor, and she's going to get it.”
The Lady Dawgs are getting their first taste of tournament action since August of 2019 with nine games in three days in Georgetown that began yesterday.
Coach Lowery hopes this extra time on the court will give her girls the experience they need to get back atop District 12-6A.
“We'll see and I'm excited about it,” Lowery said. “We're going to different tournaments that we've gone to before because we usually go to the big Austin tournaments with 64 teams or so and they weren't having those. We're going to Georgetown this week and I don't have no idea what's coming there, and we'll just see how it goes and how they handle three games in one day for three days.
“Nine games in three days is a lot for the young kids. I've kept 13 this year because I do have some young ones. I have two sophomores and freshmen, and then all the juniors and so if we don't have enough endurance to go, I've got some other people to put in.”
The new season also brings some new accolades for Lowery and her squad. The game was played early so the Copperas Cove ISD board of trustees could recognize the Copperas Cove High School Lady Dawg Volleyball team for again earning AVCA Team Academic Award.
Coach Lowery also had a major milestone as her 581 wins moved into 12th all time in wins and Texas history and made her the 4th winningest active coach in Texas history.
“It's crazy,” Lowery said of her recognition. “I didn't know everybody knew that. I had no idea so it's kind of shocking. I knew how many wins I had, but the one that's shocking to me is the 12th all time, that's just amazing.
“You don't do that stuff by yourself though. I did it because I've had some tremendous assistant coaches over the years. I got great ones right now. Coach (Christy) Thompson and coach (Melissa) Penny have been with me for a long time now, and you can't do it by yourself. It takes everybody. I've had tremendous kids over the years that have bought in and worked their rear ends off year after year after year. It's pretty cool.”