Lucas Lovejoy dominated the late first decade of the 2000s,
winning five state volleyball championships from 2008-12. 

That’s not bad considering Lovejoy High School itself opened in

Since then the Leopards have been to the State Tournament every other year (2014, 16, 18) until making a return trip this season. They have one other state title (2014). 

Lovejoy Coach Ryan Mitchell and one of his bench players celebrate a point during the
5A state championship match

That “drought” ended Saturday at the Curtis Culwell
Center in Garland as the Leopards swept Canyon Randall High School, 3-0 (27-25,
25-17, 25-15).

Lovejoy, which was ranked #1 in the state from the first day of
the rankings, finishes with a dazzling 47-5 record while Randall, under
first-year head coach Haleigh Burns, caps off a 43-4 season with the silver

Randall, which made it to the state semifinals last year under
now-Bushland head coach Jason Culpepper, kept things competitive throughout but
could never put together that one scoring streak that would put them over the

The held leads of 18-15 and 22-21 in Set 1, but Cecily Braumschriber had three kills on five serves, the last tying the set at 25-all. Back-to-back unforced errors by Randall finished off the first set for Lovejoy, 27-25. Set 2 was tied several times early – at Points 6, 7, 9, 12 and 14. But Bramschriber, who won the Tournament MVP award with 20 kills and seven digs, took matters into her own hands again. She hammered three straight kills to give Lovejoy a 19-15 lead; teammate Grace Milliken (three kills and one total block) put down another to extend it to 20-15. Bramschriber hit two more, Ellie Jonke (11 kills, one dig) had one before Brynn Eggar, six kills, one total block and one dig) closed out the second set, 25-17.

The Lovejoy Leopards celebrate after Match Point in the 5A state finals

The script pretty much fell the same way in Set 3. Randall
stayed close and had a couple leads but eventually Lovejoy took command. This
time they ran off a 7-0 scoring spurt after the match had been tied at 15-all;
Bramschriber had two kills and Averi Carlson 44 assists, nine digs, three kills
and one total block) added one more. 

Appropriately, Bramschriber capped off the match with a
kill and Lovejoy ended a five year “drought” with its seventh state
championship in the school’s 14th year of existence. 

Not bad.

“It’s funny,” Mitchell admitted after the match.
“There are coaches who go longer than five years without a state title,
and others who may never get one. We’re blessed to have been to state so many
times. It seems weird to say ‘drought’ in relation to state titles.”

Mitchell, who started the Lovejoy program in 2006 and coached
the team to its first five state titles, left in 2013 to take over at Southlake
Carroll, He left there in 2016 and, after a year off, came back to Lovejoy last
season as an assistant under Jason Nicholson, who coached the Leopards to their
2014 championship. Last year Lovejoy lost the state championship match to
upstart Kingwood Park out of Houston in three sets. Mitchell was elevated to
the head coaching position during the off-season.   

Mitchell did admit that while the Lovejoy community will
certainly celebrate the championship, he may be in trouble with his own wife.

“I went over and pointed to some students involved in a
leadership group at Lovejoy and applauded them after the win,” he
revealed. “We laughed because I promised them I’d let them shave my head
if we won the state championship. Well, from what I hear, there’s a pep rally
next week and I’ll be losing my hair.”

“My wife doesn’t know this just yet,” he chuckled.
“I’m going to be in trouble with her. I’m going to have to take our
Christmas photos with a hat on.”

About his “homecoming,” per se, Mitchell was quite

“Lovejoy is home for me,” he declared. “Once
you’re here you never want to work or coach anywhere else. Volleyball was the
first sport here in 2006; the fans took to it quickly and our support has been

“This is a special group of girls; they’ve worked very hard and deserve all they accomplished.”

Randall Coach Haleigh Burns pumps her fist
as her team wins a point

Randall was led by Brianna Ford, who pounded 13 kills, made
eight digs, had one total block and served one ace. She was joined on the stat
sheet by teammates Toryn Barrientos (16 assists, eight digs, one ace); Zoe
Parker (six digs, six kills, three aces and one solo block); Peyton Irwin (11
digs, and four assists); and, Stevie Reynecke (four kills, four total blocks,
one ace and one dig).

First-year Randall coach Haleigh Burns, who left her own alma
mater (Caprock) to come over to Randall, was thrilled with the opportunity
presented by the program. 

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to work
with in my first year at any school,” Burns stated. “These girls did
a great job buying into what we wanted to accomplish; there was never a
hesitation on their part, even though I was new to them. 

“Tonight’s loss wasn’t a representative picture of how our
season really went. Regardless of tonight’s loss, we had a season the girls
should be proud. And they know volleyball isn’t the ‘end all’ either. The
seniors will graduate and become great women and great leaders wherever they

defeats Friendswood in semis

The goal of Friendswood High School volleyball coach Sarah Paulk
and her Mustangs was to avenge a loss in last year’s Class 3A, Region III final
and get to the UIL State Tournament.

After beating Rouse (ranked #5 in the state) and Manvel (Paulk’s former team as a coach) last weekend, the ‘Stangs made it to the Curtis Culwell Center this week. 

Lovejoy Middle Grace Milliken makes a point-scoring block while teammates Libby Olson (4) and Averi Carlson (9) watch

They took on the #1 team in Class 5A, the Lovejoy Leopards of
Ryan Mitchell. 

And as much offense, defense and passing the Mustangs could
muster, the still fell short in the 5A semifinals on Friday afternoon, falling
to Lovejoy in four sets (25-15, 19-25, 25-18, 25-22). 

Friendswood’s excellent season ends at 34-18 while Lovejoy
(47-5) gets set to take on Randall, which swept Alamo Heights, in the 5A state
title match, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. 

“When I got to Friendswood four years ago, they had missed
the playoffs for two straight years,” Paulk explained afterward. “I
came in and immediately knew the talent was there. We worked hard and our
current seniors (Tori Weatherley, Makensy Manbeck, Brooke Langston, Reagan
Reilly and Maddie Ritchey) bought into what we taught them. 

“This group accomplished what we wanted. We put Friendswood
back on the map (in volleyball); we were in the regional finals last year; and,
we made it to state this year. Next year’s team will know what it’s like to get
here and we expect to be back.”

The two seniors in particular – Weatherley and Manbeck – left
their indelible mark on the program. They grew up together, playing volleyball
together since the age of 13, and were so incredibly in synch on the floor to
the delight of Friendswood volleyball fans. 

“We’re more than sisters,” Weatherly said. “We’re
twins. We always had that special connection. There were times I’d ask her what
(play or system) she’d want to run and she’d say, ‘Whatever you want! It
doesn’t matter.’ 

“I’m going to miss my sister next year. But the good news
is, we’re both moving on to the next step and realizing our dreams of playing
college volleyball.”

Junior Ashley Svoboda said the girls remaining know their

“We’re going to be back here next year,” she declared.
“We know what this is like and we’re hungry to get back and finish the

Weatherley dished out 42 assists in her last match as a Mustang;
she had eight digs as well. Manbeck tied with Svoboda with 14 kills apiece;
Manbeck made one block, dug out four balls and had an ace. Svoboda added 20
digs, four assists and one ace. 

Alessandra Meoni, who dominated the Region III tournament,
slammed 13 kills and made 10 digs plus three total blocks. Sarah Sitton was a
force in the middle, making three total blocks and punching through eight

Lovejoy was led by TCU-commit Cecily Bramschreiber, who tallied
a match-high 18 kill to go with 14 digs. Averi Carlson dished out 43 assists
and made eight digs while teammate Callie Kemohah tallied 29 digs, three
assists and two kills.

Friendswood started the match like a house on fire, taking a 5-1
lead on the strength of an ace by Kate Beuche (one ace and 25 digs) and two
kills by Manbeck. But Lovejoy answered and slowly climbed back into the match,
steadying the ship and keeping the deficit within 2-3 points. 

Down 9-6, Mitchell’s Leopards launched on a 10- scoring run due
mostly to big blocks and kills. They’d settle into a 19-11 lead and matched
Friendswood point-for-point to take the first set 25-15. 

Paulk then talked to her team, telling them to settle down and
do what they do best. 

And boy, did they, in Set 2.

Time after time the Mustangs frustrated Lovejoy hitters with
either point-scoring blocks or touch-blocks to keep rallies alive. Meoni found
her swing from the right side and the Mustangs took a 15-15 tie and made it
21-16 with a 5-1 spurt. Eventually Meonio and Manbeck combined on a block to
end the set at 25-10 and tie the match at one set apiece. 

Paulk’s crew did what they needed to do in Sets 3 and 4 – run
out to early leads and put the Leopards on their heels. Unfortunately, Lovejoy
(making its ninth appearance at state, with six titles in hand) kept
finding a way through good hitting and blocking to answer. 

In Set 3 the Leopards tailed 6-2 on an ace by Cierra Pesak
(seven kills, one dig and one ace). But they blasted through with scoring runs
of 6-2, 8-3, 10-5 and eventually an overall run of 19-8 to take a 21-14 edge.
They finished out the set, 25-18.

The ‘Stangs stayed close to the Leopards in Set 4 until a 3-0
run gave Lovejoy a 21-18 lead. The did close the gap to 23-22 but back-to-back
kills by Ellie Jonke (nine kills and five digs) closed out the match. 

returns to state and gets to state title match

Coach Haleigh Burns left her alma mater of Caprock High School
to take over a Randall HS volleyball program that has been to the UIL State Tournament
five times since 2007, including last year as a state semifinalist.

This year’s Raiders were out to claim their stake in Saturday’s Class 5A state championship match. They accomplished that goal but it wasn’t easy. 

Randall players (l-r) Kier Parker Stevie Reynecke chase the ball

Randall fought off a rough start and swept Alamo Heights, 3-0
(25-22, 25-23, 25-16) Friday morning at the Curtis Culwell Center in

With the win, the Raiders (43-3) head to the 3 p.m. state final
matchup Saturday against the winner of Friendswood and Lucas Lovejoy. The Mules
of Alamo Heights finish their landmark season with a 35-10 record, which
included their first-ever trip to state. 

“I knew when we met up in March that this was the team that
could get (the AHHS program) to state (for the first time), said first year
head coach Alex Bothe. “They showed up ready to work and every day we went
to the gym the girls showed they were determined to (make history). 

“Despite losing in three sets, my girls never gave up. They
never let balls just fall in and they pushed really hard. The whole community
is proud of what they accomplished.”

The Mules lose just two seniors – Avery Rosenblum and Faith
Holzhausen – and return five freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors next

Alamo Heights came out on fire to start the match. They scored
the first four points, courtesy of two Randall unforced errors, a kill by Kylie
Wickley (team-high 12 kills along with three digs) and another unforced error.

But Haleigh Burns’ crew steadied the ship and although they
continued to trail by 3-4 points, they were able to settle in and match AH

A 6-2 run allowed the Raiders to tie the set at 18-all, The
Raiders then ran off a quick 4-2 spurt to lead 22-20. Leading 23-22, the Raider
got back-to-back kills from Brianna Ford (match-high 19 kills, along with three
digs, three total blocks and one assist) to close out the first set.

The start of Set 2 resembled Set 1 a bit: the Mules jumped to a
quick 3-0 lead and Randall battled back. This time though, it was the Raiders
who took a big lead (13-7 after an ace by Merritt Snell (11 assists, seven digs
and two aces) then saw AH climb back in courtesy of a 9-3 run to tie it at

Both teams traded small leads when, tied at 21-21, the Raiders
got a kill from Addison Norman, then kept the Mules at bay until a hitting
error gave the Raiders the second set, 25-23.

Heights hung around in Set 3 until a 7-0 scoring run opened the
Raiders’ lead to 20-13. The Mules fought hard but could never get back
within five points after that.

“I really had some big shoes to fill coming here to
Randall,” Burns said. “Jason Culpepper left a great mark on this
program. I came in and to try and continue that tradition and I think we’re
headed in the right direction.

“We try to control the first five points of a match but
obviously we didn’t do that today. But our girls settled in and were able to
overcome the emotion and energy of Alamo Heights.”

Toryn Barrientos added 20 assists and six digs to the Randall
effort while Ruby O’Brien dished out 25 assists and made 10 digs for Alamo

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