GARLAND – A journey that began in sixth grade will come to an end on the court of the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland today.
“It'll be sad when it ends,” senior Lexi Rogers said. “We've played volleyball together since sixth grade. It hadn't clicked yet that its ending. But when it does end it'll be depressing.”
Kacie Kimbrough, Emily Hill, Lexi Rogers, Raegan Hill and Nayeli Quistian has helped create the most dominant 1A volleyball team in Texas over the past three years.
“People expected a lot out of us,” Emily said. “It's a lot of pressure. We already won two championships. Not a lot of people get that opportunity to get one and here we are with a chance to get a third.”
Though the stage is familiar to the Lady Tigers seniors, it will be a new environment for first-year Neches head coach Jenna Jenkins.
“I knew when I took the job that expectations would be high, and that we should make a return to the state tournament, but to actually be in a position to where we have a state semi-final win behind us and are heading to Garland to compete for the title in two days feels completely surreal,” Jenkins said. “It’s definitely one of the highlights of my coaching career.”
Neches began their jounrey to the playoffs with their third straight district championship after going 14-0 in district without losing a set.
They earned a bi-district round bye before sweeping Burkeville, Chester, Avery, Miller Grove and D'Hanis.
As easy as they may make it look on paper, they have had an understanding all season how other teams view them and what it would mean to other programs to knock them off.
“Every game could have been our last game,” Kacie Kimbrough said. “We have a target on our backs and we can't let our guards down.”
Raegan Hill added, “Everyone is out to get us. This is our senior year and we don't want to walk away from our final year without a ring.”
As explosive as they can be on offense, it's their defense that has not allowed them to lose a set during their first two tournament runs and this one up until today.
“I knew the caliber team they were when I accepted the job, but I don’t think any team reaches a point where they can’t get better at the game,” Jenkins said. “I know that our offense is a very important part of our game, and we are hitter-heavy. We have taken that a step further and have worked to improve our finesse game this year.”
“I am always very defensive-minded as a coach also, and while we work on all aspects of our game, I have done my best to push them to get better defensively and out of serve receive.”
Neches's final game of the season will be at 10 a.m. today at the Curtis Calwell Center in Garland.