RED OAK — For years ago, Hope Porter told her Lady Hawks the road to restored success would be bumpy. She warned of the team reaching points where it might feel as if the wheels would soon fall off and all hope seemed lost.
They held steady in their faith in the head volleyball coach. Porter reciprocated the trust in the Lady Hawks, especially in the 10 seniors on the opening match roster.
The plan worked. Now, it's time for the Lady Hawks to reap the rewards of their work on the court and in the classroom.
Headlined by District 10-5A Setter of the Year Emily North and Libero of the Year Kylie Bryan, eight Lady Hawks received all-district accolades. Ten of the 14 Lady Hawks on the roster also earned Academic All-District 10-5A honors.
Katie Hess and Kennedy Wiley received first-team nods, while Hailey Hunt and Lili Ratliff found themselves on the second-team roster. Emily Smith and Katelyn Malone were named District 10-5A honorable mentions.
“It was a good season. It was a really good season, and it was a season we have been waiting on for about two and a half years," Porter said. "I knew that the season was coming. I knew that these kids had the talent and would excel. I’ve enjoyed being able to watch them manifest that and for that to come to life."
Porter begrudgingly said "of course" she was a little disappointed the Lady Hawks fell two wins short of a state tournament bid.
Red Oak fell in three sets (21-25, 19-25, 23-25) to eventual state champion and nationally ranked Prosper in the 5A Region II semifinals. The Eagles defeated Leander Rouse in the state championship and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the USA TODAY Sports/American Volleyball Coaches Association Super 25 volleyball rankings.
"Playing in the state tournament is always ultimately our goal," Porter added. "But when you sit back and take a look at it, any time that you can play 42 matches and have just six losses. That’s pretty good.”
As for her now nine-member senior class, Porter said she is "super proud" of their fortitude during years of grueling offseasons with early morning workouts and training schedules.
“The outsiders might not know but I ask a lot of these kids and these kids stuck with it, and it ended up being a large group. If you look back on our history, if we have four or five seniors then that’s a pretty big class,” she explained. “[…] They have to be dedicated to volleyball to end up making it through this program, and I think that says a lot about the mentality and work ethic of this group of kids.”
In total, 10 Lady Hawks were named to the academic all-district team. Those players included Kylie Bryan, Megan Comeaux, Hailey Hunt, Katelyn Malone, Kendra McRuffin, Kennedy McRuffin, Emily North, Lili Ratliff, Emily Smith, and Kennedy Wiley. Porter said the other four girls were all close to the required GPA, just missing by a couple of "80-somethings" in one or two classes.
“Volleyball is a fast game. You have to think on your feet and understand offensive schemes. You can take the athlete with God-given athleticism, but if they don’t have the brains to go with it, it is going to be hard to excel in this game," Porter said. "We are blessed that a large majority of our volleyball girls also excel in the classroom.”
Porter noted the team has strict guidelines on tutoring, grades, and attendance. She added that having 10 players on the academic all-district squad “says a lot about the girls who are in this program.”
“I’m thrilled. I wish that we had all 14 of them on there and it is a pretty high standard that they have to meet. The other four are right there and just barely missed it.”
Emily North — Setter of the Year
Kylie Bryan — Libero of the Year
Seniors Emily North and Kylie Bryan received the only two superlative honors for the Lady Hawks this season. They both also filled the only spots vacated by the Lady Hawks class of 2016 — Kayla Brock and Alyssa Pevehouse. The two have also signed National Letters of Intent to continue their volleyball careers.
“It is kind of an ironic situation because both of these two kids had those two starting spots their freshman and sophomore years. Then their junior years I thought the two seniors had earned those spots," Porter said.
"I was surprised and pleased to see how they both reacted to that situation. They came in, full force working hard and determined. They decided it was for the betterment of the team instead of whatever other mentality or shutdown on the program. I am proud of both of those kids.”
North finished the season with 844 assists, which was fourth in District 10-5A behind Midlothian's Kamryn Owen (1,200), Waxahachie's Taylor Stoops (1,049) and Lake Ridge's Logyn Hinds (923). She averaged 6.3 assists per set in her 133 sets played on the way to District 10-5A Setter of the Year honors.
Five of North's top-5 assist games came during district play, including a season-high 43 assists Oct. 3 in a five-set loss against Midlothian.
North also recorded 37 aces, 404 digs and 264 kills this year. She signed an NLI with Texas A&M — Kingsville.
Bryan was a rock on the back row for the Lady Hawks this season. The Houston Baptist-signee led District 10-5A with 622 digs (4.8 digs per set) and received Libero of the Year recognition for the efforts.
Bryan recorded 20 or more digs seven times this season, which included three instances against district opponents — Sept. 19 against Mansfield Legacy (23), Oct. 17 against Mansfield Timberview (22) and Sept. 8 against Midlothian (21).
Bryan also broke 544 serves and added 55 aces.
Katie Hess — 1st team
Senior Katie Hess did a little bit of everything this season for the Lady Hawks and did it well. Often playing all six rotations, Hess received All-District 10-5A first team honors.
“You want to talk about a kid stepping up, she is the epitome of that,” Porter said.
Injuries caused Hess to miss portions of her first three seasons as a Lady Hawk, which prompted Porter to plan for her to be limited to front-row play early in the season. After Serena Patterson went down and with Keyeria Tyeskie still recovering from an offseason surgery, Red Oak needed Hess to step into a much more substantial role.
She finished the season third in District 10-5A with 436 kills, while adding 387 digs, 42 blocks and 27 aces in 132 sets played.
Porter said Hess was "imperative" to the Lady Hawks' success this year and labeled her as a "game changer who can change the momentum of a game pretty quick.”
“I was frustrated that she didn’t get more acknowledgment or honors than she did. I think she did deserve one of those superlatives," Porter said. "I can’t say enough about her. I’ve watched her mature from when she came to Red Oak as a freshman to now and her level of play has 360’d. She has matured on the court and off the court and not only just volleyball-wise but as an individual."
Hess has signed an NLI with Grand Canyon University. Porter said she is excited to watch Hess at the next level.
"Even though it's beach volleyball," she added with a grin. "I think she is going to have a successful career.”
Kennedy Wiley — 1st team
Senior outside hitter Kennedy Wiley sent home 282 kills (.282 hitting percentage) and recorded 64 blocks this season on her way to All-District 10-5A first-team placement.
“She was able to play pretty much injury free and I think it showed on the court," Porter said. "We did have to depend on her on the right side a lot. She did a good job and really had to step up.”
Wiley terminated a season-high 24 kills and notched a season-high seven blocks Oct. 3 in a five-set loss to Midlothian. She had double-digit kills in nine matches this season.
“[…] She is pretty dominant and she has a fast arm swing over there on the right side," Porter added.
Hailey Hunt — 2nd team
Sophomore Hailey Hunt led all of District 10-5A with 198 blocks, landing her on the All-District 10-5A second team.
“The kid can jump through the roof. I can only imagine where we can get her in a couple of more years," Porter said.
Porter also explained the same group of injuries that thrust Hess into a larger role moved Hunt from the outside, where she had prepared most of the offseason, to the middle.
“I don’t recall her batting an eye. She just said, ‘coach, I think I can do it. You are just going to have to direct me.’ We were all over that. She kept telling me that she wanted to be good at [middle blocker] and if she was going to do it then she wanted to be good at it," Porter added. "She was very driven and determined to figure it out. She puts her hands on a lot of balls and I think that helped us out in the middle a lot.”
Hunt also terminated 281 balls this season (.288 hitting percentage), which Porter said will be “interesting if I get to move her outside next year to see how she will do out there. There were times this season when I got to put her back out there and she would just hit balls over people. That’s pretty exciting.”
Lili Ratliff — 2nd team
Senior Lili Ratliff served as the defensive specialist on Katelyn Malone’s back-row rotation for most of the season.
Ratliff broke 423 serves while recording 308 digs, 31 aces and 304 service points this season.
“Lil is just an even-keel, consistent-type player. She is going to make a ‘wow’ kind of play every now and then. But she is also going to get her job done," Porter said. "She is going to be consistent passing balls and serving balls in. She isn’t going to make a lot of errors. You need that kid on the court.”
Emily Smith — Honorable Mention
The experience junior setter Emily Smith gained alongside three returning front-row players — Malone, Hunt and Kendra McRuffin — is sure to benefit next season, said Porter.
“Having those four coming back with a ton of experience is a blessing. Experience is the best teacher, and they got it in one of the toughest districts in the state of Texas. If you line it up team-for-team against any other district, I think that it might downright be the best district," she explained. "They gained a lot of experience in a tough district which is going to be beneficial to both us as a team and them as individuals.”
Smith averaged 4.2 assists per set on her way to an All-District 10-5A honorable mention. Her 547 assists on the season were good enough for fifth on the district leaderboard. She also added 186 digs, 252 service points and 25 aces on the season.
Katelyn Malone — Honorable Mention
Before the season began, Porter said the coaching staff had plans for sophomore outside hitter Katelyn Malone to play on the junior varsity.
That soon changed and she earned a spot on the All-District 10-5A honorable mention list for it.
“Kaitlyn would have been on the JV but, day one, I said ‘kid, you are coming up.’ She gave me one of those ‘you want me to come with you’ kind of looks," Porter recalled. "She did a good job. She was not a big terminator or flashy player this year, but it’s in there. It’s in there. She has a fast arm swing, and I think she’ll be able to do some damage in a year or two.”
Malone finished the season with 122 kills, 28 blocks and 106 digs in 116 sets.