Monthly archive

August 2020

FRIDAY NIGHT RITUAL RETURNS

in Football

With a taste of normalcy, Class 3A, DII’s 21st-ranked Clifton falls victim to Class 4A, DII Sanger’s fourth quarter rally in opener

ALEDO — When the Class 3A, Division II’s 21st-ranked Clifton Cubs took the field against the Class 4A, DII Sanger Indians at Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium last Friday night, everyone celebrated the return of Texas high school football in the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Just playing a game felt like a victory of sorts for everyone involved.

“It’s such a blessing to be able to be back on the field,” said Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford, entering his seventh season with the Cubs. “There was a time when there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the season. So every time we get out on the field, we are grateful for the opportunity. If nothing else, it gives us all some small sense of normal during these crazy times.”

Coming off their sixth straight postseason appearance, the young and inexperienced Cubs could not overcome their own mistakes as Sanger rallied in the fourth quarter to win, 25-14, in the season opener. Despite three turnovers, Clifton clung to a 14-6 lead going into the final period before the Indians responded with 19 unanswered points to claim the victory.

“Turnovers were obviously a big part of the game, and we have to do a better job of minimizing those,” Caniford said. “A lot of that can be attributed to our inexperience, and I hope that this game will help us learn from those mistakes as we continue to grow.”

“Turnovers were obviously a big part of the game, and we have to do a better job of minimizing those,” Caniford said. “A lot of that can be attributed to our inexperience, and I hope that this game will help us learn from those mistakes as we continue to grow.”

Although Sanger (1-0) scored on the opening possession of the game, the momentum quickly turned to the Cubs as junior Jimmie Taylor blocked the extra point and junior Luis Rodriguez caught the ball in mid-air and returned it 90 yards to give the two-point conversion to Clifton.

Even though the Cubs (0-1) were able to move the ball on the ground against Sanger, neither team managed to score again in the first half. But it took a goal line stand by Clifton in the second quarter to keep the Indians out of the end zone.

“That was a huge sequence for us,” Caniford said. “Not just in that game, but it also shows us that we’ve got a lot of fight in this group, which is encouraging as we move forward.”

Defensively, junior Griffin Phillips led the Cubs with 11 tackles, followed by senior Elias Tebo with nine along with sophomores Carter Tunnell and Larrett Thomas with six each.

The scoring drought came to an end in the third quarter as Clifton took the second half kickoff and marched down the field on the ground to take the lead. While junior Jimmie Taylor provided most of the grinding on the ground to pile up a team-high 96 yards on 19 carries, sophomore Joe Taylor delivered three tough runs to get the Cubs in the end zone for the first touchdown of the season as Clifton grabbed an 8-6 advantage.

Then after the Cub defense buried Sanger on its ensuing possession, Clifton went right back to work on the ground. This time, junior Alex DeLaHoya delivered the extra punch as he bullied his way to 68 yards rushing and a score to help the Cubs build a 14-6 lead.

“Actually, I thought we moved the ball well in the first half,” Caniford said. “We only had two possessions in the half and moved the ball well on both. On the second possession, we started on our own one-yard line after the goal line stand, and then were able to flip the field and use almost the entire second quarter clock.

“We continued that in the third quarter by putting together a couple of nice scoring drives.”

But in the fourth quarter, everything went Sanger’s way, beginning with an impressive scoring drive mixing the passing of junior quarterback Rylan Smart and the powerful running of senior Tallyn Welborn, culminating with a four-yard touchdown run by Smart.

Then, after the Indians forced Clifton into a third down and 25-yard situation, Sanger senior Creed Carter picked off a Cub pass and returned it 45 yards for the go-ahead score. On Sanger’s next possession, Wellborn put the nails in Clifton’s coffin with a long touchdown romp to ice the game.

“We did a lot of really good things,” Caniford said. “And the areas where we need to improve are areas that can be fixed. We still have a lot of growing to do. But I’m encouraged with a lot of the things we did, especially against a 4A school who had a significant depth advantage in the game.

“Playing teams like this, and the others we have in non-district, will help us to continue to grow as a team and identify areas we need to improve as we prepare for district play.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

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GRIDIRON SCOREBOARD: WEEK 1

in Football

Final high school football scores from the Heart of Texas region

FINAL UPDATE: 11:55 p.m., Friday, August 28, 2020

Here are all of the final Class 3A, 2A and 1A Texas high school football scores from around the Heart of Texas region.

On location for three games this weekend, THE SPORTS BUZZ provides award-winning coverage of the 2020 Texas high school football season every week, focusing on Class 3A, 2A and 1A schools in the 10-county Heart of Texas region — which includes Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, Hamilton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, McLennan and Somervell counties.

Be sure to check in with THE SPORTS BUZZ every Friday night for the complete scoreboard from games across the Heart of Texas region.

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

REBUILDING OR RELOADING?

in Football

Despite losing 13 to graduation, the Clifton Cubs enter 2020 season ranked 21st in Class 3A, DII preseason state poll

ALEDO — After advancing to the Class 3A, Division II postseason for six consecutive seasons, the Clifton Cubs expect to be the playoffs every year under the guidance of head coach Chuck Caniford. And even after Clifton lost 13 lettermen to graduation and lost some valuable rebuilding time during the offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the song remains the same.

With Dave Campbell’s Texas Football picking Clifton as the state’s 21st-ranked team in Class 3A, DII, the Cubs plan to reload using 15 returning lettermen despite listing only six seniors on the roster. And after being forced to make some scheduling changes due to the UIL’s staggered start to the high school football season and possibly restrictions, Caniford’s Cubs will take on Class 4A, DII playoff hopeful Sanger in the season opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium.

“We used every option we had to try to find games when McClennan County shut down,” Caniford said. “I don’t even remember how we found out we were both looking, but we started talking and felt like it would be a good fit if we could find a site to play. Aledo was gracious enough to host us so it worked out well. 

“Playing at Aledo also gives everyone who wants to attend the opportunity to go to the game, which is big since we will have limited capacities most weeks due to COVID restrictions.”

Despite returning five offensive and six defensive starters from the 2020 squad, the Cubs will field a relatively young and inexperienced team.

Offensively, junior Griffin Phillips takes over at quarterback with junior Jimmie Taylor at running back while junior Alex DeLaHoya plays fullback and senior Luis Rodriguez takes over at wide receiver. In the trenches, senior Michael McDowell and junior Matthew Hobbs will anchor the offensive line.

The Clifton defense will be led by senior linebackers Elias Tebo and Devin Byrd, along with sophomore Joe Taylor on the defensive line. The defensive backfield will be manned by seniors Tyler Anderson and Jose Ramirez, who also returns as placekicker.

But with only one scrimmage allowed this season due to the UIL’s COVID-19 restrictions, the Clifton coaching staff will still be evaluating talent early on in the non-district schedule.

‘”I think, like everyone, we still have a lot of questions that we need to answer, and that’s really what these non-district games are all about,” Caniford said. “I’ve always tried to challenge our teams in non-district so that we can get a true evaluation of where we are at each week with the goal being to have answers to those questions by the time district play rolls around.” 

After a rough rebuilding season in 2019, Sanger second-year head coach Rocky Smart believes his Indians are ready to compete for a playoff berth in District 4-4A, Division II, which also featured sixth-ranked Celina. Sanger returns 18 lettermen, which includes six offensive and three defensive starters.

Junior Rylan Smart returns at quarterback after passing for 931 yards and two touchdowns along with  538 rushing yards and seven scores in 2019. The signal caller will be joined in the backfield by Tallyn Wellborn, who rushed for 867 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

“Rocky does a good job with his kids, and they were very young last year,” Caniford said. “They’ve got some weapons on offense. They’ve got a big back that will pound you, and then another kid that can fly that they will get the ball to. His son is the QB, and he’s been around the game his whole life, so it will be tough to rattle him.

“Defensively, they’ve got good size up front and bring a lot of pressure. We have to do a good job at the line of scrimmage to be able to have success on offense.”

After revamping the non-district slate, Caniford put together arguably one of the toughest schedules the Cubs have faced since he took over in Clifton seven years ago.

“It is a very difficult schedule,” Caniford said. “But our hope is that, in the end, the schedule will help our young kids develop quickly and have them ready to roll in district play.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING & SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GRIDIRON MATCHUPS: WEEK 1

in Football

Heart of Texas high school football season openers feature key matchups between some of the best in the state rankings

Once again this season, THE SPORTS BUZZ will provide award-winning coverage of the 2020 Texas high school football season, focusing on Class 3A, 2A and 1A schools in the 10-county Heart of Texas region — which includes Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, Hamilton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, McLennan and Somervell counties.

The Heart of Texas area features a number of marquee matchups on the opening night under the Friday night lights, headlined by the defending Class 3A, Division I state champion and second-ranked Grandview Zebras hosting the fourth-ranked Malakoff Tigers, Class 3A, DI’s 13th-ranked Lorena visiting Class 3A, DII’s eighth-ranked Franklin, Class 2A, DI’s 10th-ranked San Saba playing host to Class 2A, DII’s 19th-ranked Eldorado, and Class 1A, DI’s sixth-ranked White Deer will take on Class 1A, DII’s seventh-ranked Strawn.

But the area’s undercard features plenty of interesting matchups to open the season as well with Class 3A, DII’s 21st-ranked Clifton taking on Class 4A, DII Sanger Indians at Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium, the Class 3A, DI West Trojans facing Class 3A, DII’s 12th-ranked Lexington, the Meridian Yellowjackets looking for its first win under head coach Wade Morton on the road against the Kerens Bobcats, and Class 1A postseason hopefuls Cranfills Gap — coming off its first district title since 1982 — hosting the Evant Elks.

Be sure to check in with THE SPORTS BUZZ every Thursday for the complete schedule for teams from the Heart of Texas region.

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BIG GAMES UNDER THE LIGHTS

in Football

As the 2020 Texas high school football season begins, COVID-19 & UIL realignment changes landscape across the Heart of Texas

Once again, it’s time for some high school football under the Friday night lights across the state of Texas. And after enduring a shutdown of all University Interscholastic League athletics last March due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic as well as on again, off again workouts during the summer, it’s finally time for a return to normalcy.

Well, sorta.

Beginning with games Thursday, Class 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A schools will begin their football seasons, while Class 6A and 5A have been put on hold until Sept. 24. With COVID-19 hot spots in mind, the UIL decided to postpone schools located in the highly-populated urban areas.

But across the primarily rural Heart of Texas region, there will be no shortage of games this week, featuring the defending Class 3A, Division I state champion and second-ranked Grandview Zebras hosting the fourth-ranked Malakoff Tigers, Class 3A, DI’s 13th-ranked Lorena visiting Class 3A, DII’s eighth-ranked Franklin, Class 2A, DI’s 10th-ranked San Saba playing host to Class 2A, DII’s 19th-ranked Eldorado, and Class 1A, DI’s sixth-ranked White Deer will take on Class 1A, DII’s seventh-ranked Strawn.

Of course in addition to the adjustments forced on high school sports due to the pandemic, the 2020-22 UIL reclassification and realignment somewhat reshuffled the deck in the 10-county Heart of Texas region.

One of the more interesting developments involves District 7-2A, Division I, which will feature all seven teams from the Heart of Texas region, thanks to three teams dropping down in classification. Moving from Class 3A to 2A, Hamilton, Rio Vista and Tolar will drop down to join Crawford and Valley Mills in the revamped district, while Bosqueville and Itasca make the lateral move from District 8-2A, DI.

“We are excited to see some old opponents back in our district,” Valley Mills football head coach Sam Moody said. “From top to bottom in our district, it is going to be great competition against some really good programs.”

While many of the areas schools were not impacted directly by being reclassified, some of them saw dramatic changes in their district alignments due to the shifting surrounding landscape.

After the last two realignments gave Clifton High School two completely different sets of district opponents in District 8-3A, DII, the Cubs stayed in Class 3A, Division II, but jumped from Region 2 to Region 4 to join District 13-3A, DII. Interestingly, Rogers, Lexington and Florence followed Clifton in the move, joining Buffalo and state-ranked Franklin, while Riesel makes the jump into the new seven-team district from Class 2A, DI.

“Other than Riesel, we have either played or seen the others, so we have a pretty good idea of what we will get out of them,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “It will be a highly competitive district for sure with lots of travel. But we are in a very unique geographical position, in that no matter where we went, we were likely going to have to travel a lot.

“The biggest change will be moving to Region 4. Now our first round opponents are all located south of Interstate 10 along the coast. That will make things very interesting and different.”

Possibly one of the most fun realignments in the region, if not the state, put all five Bosque County six-man schools – Cranfills Gap, Iredell, Kopperl, Morgan and Walnut Springs – exclusively in a district all their own, District 12-1A, Division II. Although the Bosque County rivals competed in the same district in 2002, the previous league also included outsiders Jonesboro and Oglesby.

“We are excited to be back in a district with all our county rivals,” said Cranfills Gap head coach Adam Carroll as the Lions will be coming off their first district championship since 1982. “We all know each other very well as teams and coaches. We are looking forward to the challenges that this district will bring as well.

“Iredell and Kopperl didn’t have enough to finish the season this last year, but their numbers should be better for this next year. Morgan and Walnut Springs are both well-coached. And even though all of the teams lost some key seniors, we will see who rebuilds the fastest before district starts.”

“This new football district was anticipated last realignment, but it finally came to fruition this time,” said Morgan head coach Edward Aviles, who led the Eagles to the postseason before losing to Cranfills Gap in a bi-district matchup. “I am glad to see all of the Bosque County teams grouped together. I anticipate some competitive games to fight for the two playoff spots. I can’t wait to get started.”

After coming into the 2019 season as Class 1A, DII’s sixth-ranked squad, the Iredell Dragons were decimated by injuries, forcing them to forfeit their district schedule.

“It’s going to be a great district to be a part of,” Iredell head coach Luis Guereca said. “It will be competitive each week. It’s always interesting and fun to be a part of the all-Bosque County six-man district. We’re looking forward to football season.”

The last time all five Bosque County six-man schools played in the same, Walnut Springs head coach Tim Trotter was the only one around to see it. But when Trotter retired during the summer as the county’s longest tenured head coach dating back to 1994, Walnut Spring principal Lonnie Flippen will return to the sideline to coach for the first time since 1991.

“This district is the way it should be,” Trotter said. “We’re all close, and it creates a friendly rivalry.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING & SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SOLITARY ASSESSMENT

in Football

Clifton’s youth movement shows promise in lone scrimmage against Whitney Wildcats Thursday

CLIFTON — It’s been said that a tie is like kissing your sister. Likewise,  it could be said that a scrimmage resembles arm wrestling your grandmother. No matter which way it goes, it doesn’t really mean anything.

After watching the Clifton Cubs host the Whitney Wildcats in the lone scrimmage allowed by the University Interscholastic League prior to the 2020 Texas high school football season due to COVID-19 mitigations, one could argue that both adages rang true. For those keeping count, the controlled scrimmage ended in a 6-6 tie Thursday evening at Cub Stadium.

Clifton junior quarterback Griffin Phillips celebrates after scoring the Cubs’ lone touchdown in Thursday’s scrimmage against Whitney at Cub Stadium.

But following a slow start during the first series of plays on both sides of the ball, the young and inexperienced Class 3A, Division II Clifton squad gave the veteran and talented Class 3A, DI Whitney unit all it could handle.

“We have a very young team, and I think that showed in the early part of the scrimmage,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said.  “But I was very pleased with how they adjusted and improved throughout the night. I think that they adapted to the speed of the game pretty quickly, and we started to move the ball more efficiently.” 

With only eight seniors on the squad, the Cubs replaced the entire 2019 offensive starting backfield and more than half of the offensive line. Consequently, the Clifton offensive attack got off to a slow start and turned the ball over three times.

“We will have a different look on offense this year, built around the skill sets of our kids,” Caniford said. “We did some really good things, but have to be more consistent. And we have to take care of the football better.”

 But after failing to pick up a first down on their first controlled set of 10 plays, the Cubs struck quickly for their lone score of the scrimmage to open the running clock segment.  Senior wide receiver Luis Rodriguez hauled in a pass from junior quarterback Griffin Phillips for a 56-yard gain. Then on the next play, Phillips turned the corner for a 17-yard scoring scamper to put Clifton on the scoreboard.

The Cub defense forced a fumble on Whitney’s ensuing possession. But on Clifton’s first play from scrimmage, the Wildcats picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown for Whitney’s only score.

Despite showing some flashes of explosiveness, the Cub offensive unit could not put together another scoring drive. But in the meantime, the Clifton defense completely shut down the Wildcats, led by returning junior quarterback Garrett Peacock, who guided Whitney to a district title before winning two playoff games for the time in school history in 2019.

“I was very pleased with how we played defensively,” Caniford said. “We didn’t give up a score on defense, which is always a good thing. We still have a lot of work to do, but I am very excited about what I saw.”

When the UIL announced an amended 2020-21 athletic calendar to accommodate for the COVID-19 outbreak across the state July 21, it didn’t appear to impact Clifton at first glance. After all, schools in the 1A through 4A classifications would continue forward as planned by beginning practice Aug. 3 and starting games on time Aug. 27.

In the meantime, Class 6A and 5A schools, primarily located in highly-populated urban areas, were issued a delay of about a month with practice beginning Sept. 7, games starting Sept. 24, and the season pushed back so that the state title games would be played in January. And likewise, the UIL urged smaller schools in COVID-19 hot spots to do the same.

As one of the designated COVID hot spots in Texas, McLennan County health officials recommended that schools delay opening regardless of classification. With that announcement, Clifton found itself looking to replace three of their four non-district opponents. And Caniford left nothing to chance, wasting little time in making sure the Cubs would play a full 10-game schedule.

Originally scheduled to open the season hosting Bosqueville Aug. 28 before facing West, Maypearl and McGregor in non-district games, Clifton will now open the season on the road against Class 4A, DII Sanger at Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium, play the home opener against Class 3A, DI Academy Sept. 4, then visit Class 3A, DI Maypearl and host Class 2A, DII’s 11th-ranked Tenaha before opening District 13-3A, DII competition at home against Riesel Sept. 25.

Without question, the revised 2020 schedule represents arguably one of the toughest Caniford has lined up in his seven years at the helm in Clifton. And with only one scrimmage allowed this season, Thursday’s live action took on even more importance.

“There were a lot of good things that we are going to be able to teach off of the film that will help us continue to improve,” Caniford said. “At this point in the season, it’s all about getting better every day, and that needs to be our focus.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

COURTING A NEW BEGINNING

in Volleyball

For the first time in more than four decades, Meridian Lady Jackets ‘lock in’ to play volleyball

MERIDIAN — For the first time in more than four decades, the Meridian Lady Jackets took to the court to play a volleyball match last Friday at Yellowjacket Gymnasium. With a minimal amount of fanfare but plenty of excitement in the air, Meridian’s first-year volleyball head coach Megan Styron led her young, inexperienced squad through their pre-game paces with some jitters on display.

Meridian’s first-year volleyball head coach Megan Styron during warm-ups prior to the first Lady Jacket volleyball game in 41 years.

“It was exciting to have our first home game at Meridian in such a long time,” said Styron, making her first appearance as a head coach after serving as the athletic trainer at MHS for the last two years. “It was great to see the many fans there — socially distanced, of course — to support this new chapter.” 

Taking on a talented and deep Rio Vista Lady Eagle squad, the Lady Jackets battled their nervous anxiety while demonstrating enthusiasm and grit before falling in straight sets, 25-10, 25-6, 25-13 after the Meridian junior varsity lost, 25-19, 25-17.

“The girls have made a lot of progress since that first day of practice, which I am very proud of,” Styron said. “For varsity, I think the nerves of the first home game got the best of us in our play. But I think it was good for the girls to go against another program that has been around for a while and give us something to strive for. 

“The girls are still working on putting all the little pieces together and realizing that volleyball is a game that you have to be locked in at all times.” 

After a 41-year absence, MISD athletic director Wade Morton, MHS principal Kristi Kinney and MISD superintendent Kim Edwards locked in and decided to bring volleyball back this season.

“We wanted to address the amount of sports we had for the fall,” Morton said. “We wanted all of our athletes to compete in sports year around, and having volleyball allows for all of our athletes to compete.”

“Volleyball provides an additional opportunity for our students to be involved,” Edwards said.

Although the Lady Jackets own a long history of playing volleyball, the program was initially dropped following the 1973-74 school year. Meridian reinstated volleyball for the 1978-79 school year, but promptly dropped it again the following season.

“My sister played and loved it,” said Gay (Coffman) Allen, Meridian High School Class of 1978, who retired after working in the MHS front office for 24 years but still drives a bus route. “We had a basketball coach come in who threw a fit about it taking away from basketball, so they quit playing again.

“Back in the day, Meridian always had volleyball. I have talked to other schools before we started up that play both, and they said the same girls do both and it has in no way affected their basketball program. It helps other athletes have another area if they don’t like basketball. Some of the girls that have never played basketball are playing, and I think it is great for our school to offer this for another option.”

Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Styron played college soccer at Florida Southern College while earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training.  While working on a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology at Baylor University, Styron was placed at Meridian for the past two years as a graduate assistant athletic trainer through Baylor Scott & White Southwest Sports Medicine. 

“When I found out they would be adding volleyball this year, I somehow convinced them to let me stick around and help with their new program,” Styron said. “I played volleyball up until high school and played club ball as well. This is my first coaching job, and I am very humbled and blessed that Meridian entrusted me to help re-start their volleyball program and consider it a privilege. I’ve loved my two years here at Meridian so far, and I am excited for this new chapter.”

As if rebuilding the volleyball program after a 41-year hiatus wasn’t already a big enough challenge, Styron and her inexperienced but enthusiastic bunch of volleyball players were forced to sit out much of the summer workout program thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. So since workout reopened Aug. 3, the Lady Jackets have been playing catch-up.

“We had to start from the very beginning — with fundamentals,” said Styron, who teams with assistant coach Lauren Cartwright. “We literally had to teach them how to pass a ball, how to set, what the lines on the court mean, etc. We still try to incorporate those fundamentals into every practice as we start to advance, making sure we are fine tuning those essential parts of volleyball.”

The Lady Jacket varsity squad includes Evelyn Dirkse, Elyse Herrera, McKenzie Hicks, Mackenzie Lane, Cortney Lunsford, Faith Paruszewski, Burkly Paruszewski, America Ramirez, Canyon Stauffer, Journie Tweedle and Kimberly Walker.

“We still have a lot to work on,” Styron said. “But I have high expectations of them and myself based off of what I have seen so far. Being able to watch them in other sports in the past has allowed me to know what they’re capable of athletically and be able to push them harder. I expect them to give every opponent a fighting chance and not let them being a first year team be their defining factor.”

With total of 25 girls currently playing volleyball, Styron has the luxury of playing a junior varsity schedule as well to help rebuild the program. The Meridian junior varsity consists of Hope Cabrera, Summer Chen, Haley Creech, Abby Edwards, Kylie Hood, Autumn Jean, Catherine Lunsford, Meryl Roberson, Sophia Thompson, Jaycie Tweedle, Kaidence Jones, Liberty Heflin and Kaylee Kinard.

“I am very proud of the progress the girls have made in such a short period of time,” Styron said. “This summer was the first time some of the girls ever touched a volleyball. So to see where they are already makes me excited for the season.” 

Easing the volleyball program back up to speed, the Lady Jackets will only play one game per week before opening District 11-2A competition by hosting the Hamilton Lady Bulldogs Sept. 8. In the meantime, Meridian will play three consecutive non-district games on the road, visiting Penelope this Friday, traveling to Kerens Aug. 28, and making the short trip to Moody Sept. 1.

“It’s great seeing the potential we have,” Styron said. “Now, it is just finding ways to execute that on the court. We try to treat them as if they are not a brand new program, as in not letting that be an excuse. We have high expectations of them and hold them to it, while applauding and pointing out the efforts and strides they have made along the way.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SLAMMING INTO HIGH GEAR

in Volleyball

Determined, hungry Clifton volleyball team starts season strong

CLIFTON — Sweeping to their second consecutive victory to open the 2020 Texas high school volleyball season, the Clifton Lady Cubs made quick work of the Hamilton Lady Bulldogs, 25-18, 25-12, 25-15, last Friday evening at the Clifton High School Gymnasium.

Junior Ava Anderson drove home a team-high eight kills while senior captain Bailey Ledbetter contributed 13 assists and seven digs to lead the Lady Cubs to their second straight dominating victory. Clifton has not lost a set while sweeping to back-to-back wins.

“We did a good job picking up tough balls and playing a solid defense,” Clifton volleyball’s second-year head coach Paige Poth said. “We kept our errors minimal and ran our offense really well.”

Producing another team effort, freshman Sydney Fullerton contributed five kills, seven assists and eight service receptions, sophomore Carley Caniford added four kills, six digs and four service aces, while freshman Brianna Gonzalez delivered four kills. Junior Kamryn Zint contributed a team-high 16 service receptions and three service aces, and junior Kasandra Gaona produced four service aces and six service receptions.

 “I like the energy that I’m seeing from the girls,” Poth said. “We still have a lot to work on. But with what I’m seeing right now, I’m happy about where we are at. We’ve come a long way since Aug. 1 and the progress has been tremendous. I’m excited to see where this takes us this season.”

Opening the season with four consecutive home matches, the Lady Cubs (2-0) host Rio Vista Tuesday with junior varsity starting at 5 p.m. followed by varsity at 6 p.m. Clifton will then host Tolar in another non-district matchup Saturday morning before traveling to Comanche Aug. 25 for its first road game of the season.

“After setting the tone last year, my returners came in and said this is really what they wanted again,” Poth said. “So we have picked up from there and everyone else joined in. it was nice that those girls stepped up, and it has helped us a lot.”

Armed with a host of talented underclassmen gaining experience in 2019, the Lady Cubs did not realize their dream of making the Class 3A, Division II playoffs for the first time in years. But Poth laid the foundation for the future, and the Lady Cubs made their presence known despite playing in the tough District 17-3A boasting three state-ranked teams throughout the season.

“Making the playoffs is a huge goal for this season, but we are just taking it one game at a time,” Poth said. “We have a game plan, every game is a chance to execute that game plan and do what we need to do to be ready for district.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

DIGGING DEEPER

in Volleyball

Clifton volleyball opens the 2020 season on quest to qualify for Class 3A playoffs and snap program’s postseason drought

CLIFTON – Picking up right where they left off last season, the Clifton Lady Cub volleyball team opened the 2020 season with an impressive win to embark on their quest to take their game to the next level.

In their season opener, the Lady Cubs swept the Covington Lady Owls in three games, 25-21, 25-19, 25-19, Monday evening at the Clifton High School Gymnasium. After a hard-fought opening set, the Lady Cubs took control early in game two and three to secure the match.

“We did a good job starting the game and closing the game,” Clifton volleyball’s second-year head coach Paige Poth said. “We are progressing every day, and the girls worked hard from beginning to end.”

In the dominating victory over Covington, the Lady Cubs (1-0) spread the workload around a team filled with young, talented returners from last season’s surprising squad. Despite being forced to cancel the Annual Lady Cub Invitational Tournament this weekend, Clifton will host Hamilton Friday with the junior varsity starting at 5 p.m. followed by the varsity at 6 p.m. in the Clifton High School Gymnasium.

Against the Lady Owls Monday, sophomore Carly Caniford led Clifton with nine kills and six service aces, followed by junior Ava Anderson seven kills and five digs, as well as sophomore Camryn Caniford and freshman Brianna Gonzalez with five kills each, while freshman Kate Humphreys added four kills and two blocks.

In the ball handling categories, junior Kasandra Gaona led the Lady Cubs with 11 digs and 19 service receptions, followed by senior Bailey Ledbetter with eight digs and a team-high 16 assists, and junior Kamryn Zint with six digs and 10 service receptions, while freshman Sydney Fullerton dished out 13 assists.

“I have eight returners from the varsity last year,” Poth said. “My expectations remain the same this year – focus on one point at a time, and one game at a time with a go-getter mentality. The girls have had that since day one, and we can see the success behind it.”

Armed with only two seniors and a host of talented underclassmen in 2019, the Lady Cubs did not realize their dream of making the Class 3A, Division II playoffs for the first time in years. But under the guidance of Poth, the Lady Cubs have laid the foundation for the future.

“Last year, we really set the tone and paved the way to more success this year and the years to come,” Poth said. “We won some big games last year, and the girls were hungry for more. The first day of two-a-days, they were excited to get back in there. And they expected the same mentality they ended with last year from everyone.”

Despite playing in the tough District 17-3A boasting three state-ranked teams throughout the season, the young Clifton volleyball team made their presence known. And when the 2019 season accolades were handed out, the Lady Cubs were recognized for their efforts. Sophomore Ava Anderson led the way by being named to the All-District 17-3A First Team, and junior Bailey Ledbetter earned Honorable Mention recognition.