All eyes on Van Alstyne volleyball as team starts season

Griff Servati,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Van Alstyne High School's 2020 varsity volleyball team includes McKenna Jenson, Abby Lange, Riley Ross, Ashlyn Quillan, Hannah Hemphill, Samanatha Moore, Kylie Allen, Jaidan Servati, Janessa Crawford, Jadyn Cranford, Valerie Young and Sydney Sullivan.

Volleyball is always the first fall sport to get going in the state of Texas. The start-of-practice dates usually align with football, but by the first weekend, you will see volleyball teams in action against competitors.

This year has been no different, but volleyball has more eyes on it than usual.

Volleyball is giving the test run for the UIL for other sports that follow, especially football. In talking to a school official this week, it was mentioned, “If you can't have teams playing each other in volleyball, you do not have much of a chance for football on Friday nights."

Locally, the Van Alstyne Lady Panthers are moving along with their season.

The first weekend of the season, they played in a scrimmage at Whitesboro and hosted three other teams for scrimmage. The scrimmages were for teams only, with no spectators in the stands.

The UIL decided before the start of the season that pre-season tournaments could not happen, as it was not practical gathering multiple teams into one facility.

The first full week of the season concluded with three games that saw teams compete in the first athletic competition since mid-March.

Changes were evident from the entry to the games, but there were few complaints as many are just happy for the chance to play again.

Van Alstyne High School hosted a pair of games in this early season experiment.

Everyone who entered the gym was temperature checked with the thermal camera scanner that the school has installed for daily use. Masks were worn by all in the facility, following the governor's orders. The facility is limited to 50 percent of its capacity. School officials taking entry fees were maintaining a count of those in attendance.

The Lady Panthers have started the new season with a 2-1 record with wins over Callisburg and Valley View, and a loss to Gunter.

Gunter, the team that VAHS beat to advance to the state championship in 2019, did not lose a player to graduation. It looks to be the team to beat in the 3A division in North Texas.

The Lady Panthers have five of its nine players from the best season in school history returning to help coach Veronica Mendez lead them into 4A-level competition.

Leading the new-look Lady Panthers are seniors Valerie Young, Janessa Crawford and Syndey Sullivan, with returning starting juniors Samantha Moore and Hannah Hemphill.

New players to the varsity level this season are juniors Abby Lange, Jadyn Cranford and McKenna Jenson; sophomore Jaidan Servati and freshmen Riley Ross.

Completing the roster for the Lady Panthers are two move-in seniors, Ashlyn Quillan and Kylie Allen.

These two seniors, who will contribute to the team, have been sidelined at the start of the season. Quillan has a UIL waiting period until she can help the Lady Panthers at the setter position. Allen, a move-in from Virginia, is recovering from an ACL injury is expected to give the team more depth boost at the net around mid-season.

Injuries have already played a part in the young season. In the opening game against Callisburg, the Lady Panthers won despite not having any substitutes available by the third game of the eventual 3-0 sweep.

Going into the Gunter game, freshman Lydia Carroll was moved up from the JV team and saw substantial playing time.

Any season can have its unknown in injuries. Still, this season will have many adjustments if players have to miss games due to sickness or being quarantined due to being in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Lady Panthers travel to Collinsville Aug. 21 to play the Lady Pirates, with varsity playing at 4:30 p.m. and junior varsity to follow.

The Lady Panthers have a home contest Aug. 22, with the JV teams playing at 10 a.m. and varsity to follow at 11 a.m. against Bonham.

If you cannot attend but want to watch, the games are being live-streamed on the VAALLTHEWAY.com Facebook page, at facebook.com/vaphotoandvideo/.