By JUSTIN RAINS
At 6 a.m. every morning this week, volleyball practice has been under way at Cayuga High School.
The third-ranked Ladycats don’t normally practice that early, but there’s a very logical explanation as to why they decided that this week — the week of the state tournament — would be a good time to start.
In the team’s first two state tournament appearances — both in the morning, and both losses — players thought the team came out tired and flat. This is their way of combating that.
It’s all part of the team’s concerted effort to make this third time to state different.
“Third time’s the charm,” senior Shawnta Knox said. “We’re just more dedicated, I think. It’s not just that whole, ‘Oh yeah we made it, we can go play.’ No, we came to win this time.”
Cayuga (33-9) opens the state tournament at 11 a.m. Friday against Round Top-Carmine (40-3). Jewett Leon (40-4) and Wink (41-5) play in the other Class 1A semifinal at 9 a.m. Friday.
It’s obvious talking to Knox — as well as Molly Griffey, Reann Richards and Danielle Anderson, the other three players that have been on all three state teams — that the previous two trips to state haven’t been happy ones.
First-year CHS coach Megan Humphreys, who was an assistant the past two years, said she’s noticed a change in the team’s attitude, and noticed it from the get-go this season.
“From Day 1, our main goal — even though we didn’t like to say the word state or talk about going to state — you could definitely tell just from work-outs and the way they prepared themselves that their goal was to get back to state,” Humphreys said. “Not just get there, but win it.”
Maintaining that fire hasn’t been easy, not when Cayuga was routinely sweeping teams out of the way with ease during district.
But through it all, Humphreys said they maintained that singular focus: That this season was going to be different.
“I would hear them say, ‘We have to make it to state, we have to get ready for teams that are better than this,’” she said. “I think it’s been a goal. Even for the freshman coming up, who have never tasted going to state or know what it feels like, I think it became their goal because of the upperclassmen trying to get them there.”
It’s not just freshman trying to get upper-classmen to that next level, it’s upper-classmen trying to get the team’s seniors — Griffey, Knox and Richards — over the hump that’s stopped them the past two years.
“I’ve been with them since I’ve been in high school, so I definitely want them to leave with a good taste in their mouth and happy with what they accomplished their senior year,” Anderson said. “I want to do that for them.”
Anderson has played a large part in Cayuga’s success in 2012, even more so than in year’s past.
With Knox coming off of an injury to start the season, Anderson was asked early on to carry more of the offensive load. Now, Knox is back to full strength, but Anderson has relinquished any of that attack.
Instead, Cayuga now fields multiple attacking options that defenses have to worry about. Anderson calls the offense “more aggressive.”
“We still try and push balls to Danielle and I, but we also know that Mary (Davis) and Meagan (Poland) can put the ball down,” Knox said. “We know we can give the ball to anybody and the ball will be put away.
It takes a lot of stress off people, and it keeps people on their toes,” she continued. “It’s easy to beat that team when you know the ball is going (to a certain player).”
The Ladycats were pushed to the brink of elimination in Saturday’s regional final, falling behind 2-0 to Blum before eventually coming back to win.
Humphreys said she sees that as a positive, because it means her team is battle tested. It was only the Ladycats’ second five-set match of the year, and the first one they had won since the 2010 regional final.
Last year, Cayuga easily went through the regional tournament, never dropping a set.
“I think it was the best thing that could’ve happened to us going into the playoffs, because we’re going to get down,” Humphreys said. “Somebody is going to take a set from us. We’re not going to go 3-0 at state.”
The Ladycats know that they’re not going to win matches 3-0 at state, just like they know there is a chance that they won’t win the state tournament.
But, while winning is the ultimate goal, it’s also very important for all four veterans that the team play like, as Knox put it, “the Cayuga Ladycats.” Even if that play comes in a loss.
“I think, also, the last two times (at state) haven’t been our best games of the season and I think that’s key for this season,” Richards said. “Whatever the odds are, we want to make our last game our best game, and I think a lot of people that have watched us and watched us grow, know that if our last game is our best game, then it could potentially be a state championship.”
Added Griffey, “Even if we do lose in the first round, I don’t want to go out in three or four sets, I want to fight until the very end.”
Location: Curtis Culwell Center (4999 Naaman Forest Blvd. Garland, Texas 75040)
Tickets: $5 for students, $10 for adults. 3-day ticket for $25, 2-day ticket for $18 (starting Friday). Doors open 1 hour prior to first match
Parking: $5 in lot adjacent to Culwell Center
Broadcast: All matches will be broadcast online at
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com