Highlighted by superlative honors for Audrey Nalls and Taylor Stoops, eight members of the Waxahachie Lady Indian volleyball team received all-district recognition for their work on the court this season. Eleven more Lady Indians were rewarded for their aptitude in the classroom, too.
The All-District 10-5A teams and superlatives were announced when the Lady Indians and Red Oak Lady Hawks bowed out of the 5A Region II semifinals. Waxahachie finished the season 31-15 after falling to Lucas Lovejoy in three sets.
Nalls and Stoops received the only two superlatives for the Lady Indians, named as the District 10-5A Hitter and Offensive Players of the Year, respectively.
Essence Clerkley and Allison Wells received All-District 1st team nods, while Sara Sims and Ragan Ward were named to the second team and Baylee Whitehead and Lacy Mott were tabbed as honorable mentions.
For head volleyball coach Sandy Faussett, the recognitions are a nice cap on a season that, due to injuries, was a bit trying at times. Not to mention that with only two of the eight recipients graduating, there is plenty to look forward to in 2018.
"What is even more exciting about that is that we had some kids who were injured who didn't get to put up the stats to win all-district awards. I thought we had girls like Macie Milholen and Courtney Crownover who had times during the season when they just played phenomenally," Faussett explained.
"It is exciting all around to see the kids who were recognized for all district things and then to have some of those kids coming back who performed just as well during different parts of the season."
Of course, the work on the court would not have been possible had the student-athletes of failed to take care of business in the classroom first. Their work off of the court "made my job a whole lot easier," said Faussett.
Those 11 Lady Indians named to the Academic All-District 10-5A team were Ryleigh Horn, Faith Hunt, Macie Milholen, Lacy Mott, Anna Rodgers, Gracie Smith, Taylor Stoops, Ragan Ward, Alli Wells, Baylee Whitehead, and Whitney Volentine.
"Every athlete, especially if they're going to plant the next level, has to learn to manage their time and balance what they do athletically with their responsibilities in the classroom. We are very fortunate that we work with kids to make their academics a priority. It is important, and they really want to do well in the classroom. They make my job a whole lot easier."
Audrey Nalls — Hitter of the Year
A back injury forced Audrey Nalls to sit for the majority of the season, but when she made her long-awaited return Oct. 3 against Lancaster — the district took notice. The junior TCU-commit average 5.9 kills per set thanks to a .303 hitting percentage. She finished the season with 231 kills on 508 attempts.
Nalls recorded a season-high 30 kills in a four-set win over Red Oak on Oct. 24. She registered 20 or more kills five different times.
"Everyone recognizes her talent and what she brings to the court," Faussett said. "I think it is a very fitting award for her and we know how strong she is and how much of a difference maker she is."
Nalls also recorded 60 blocks, 91 digs, and 19 aces.
Taylor Stoops — Offensive Player of the Year
While injuries forced the Lady Indians to adapt throughout the season, Faussett said they often needed to find other ways than a big kill to score points.
One of those ways came from Taylor Stoops behind the service stripe. The senior fired home a district-high 123 aces and recorded 344 service points this season.
"We scored a lot of points when she was jumping at the baseline serving," Faussett said. "For some reason, we just did well when she was back there putting the ball in play for us."
Faussett added that when she thinks of the offensive player of the year superlative, she often thinks of a setter who "brings a little something else." She used Shelby Martin, who is wrapping up a successful freshman season at East Carolina University, as one example. Martin contributed to the hitting game as much as she did setting others in it.
"For Taylor, I see it kind of the same way in that she can run our offense so well but then also contribute so many points on her serves."
Stoops posted 1,049 assists (7.3 per set) and 294 digs this season. She even recorded 192 kills on the year after notching just 88 kills over her first three varsity seasons.
Essence Clerkley — 1st team
Essence Clerkley ended her junior season with 273 kills, 156 blocks, and an All-District 10-5A 1st team nod.
At times, the 5-foot-11 middle blocker could take over sets with her skills above the net and passion for the game. Faussett was also quick to label her, along with Allison Wells and Courtney Crownover, as a "spark plug."
"I just love this kid. She definitely loves the game and wants to play it at the next level, so she is very motivated and driven and how she approaches the whole thing," Faussett said. "And if I look at the whole picture from last year to this year she is definitely the most improved kid, hands down. She ended up being a huge contributor to our offense."
Allison Wells — 1st team
After recording 293 kills in 134 sets during her sophomore season, Allison Wells flourished in her time as the full-time libero this year for the Lady Indians. She also received All-District 10-5A 1st team recognition after recording 571 digs in 144 sets and received 550 serves with 27 errors as a junior.
"She can run any ball down. That kid is so quick, and she can just do so much defensively back there," Faussett said. "I often had her in middle-back because she can just cover so much of the court. She just does a great job for us, and there isn't a ball that is going to hit and either corner when she's out there."
In addition to her standout play as the Lady Indians' libero, Wells nearly doubled her ace-total from last season 42-27 in just 10 more sets and 14 fewer attempts (474-488). She was also successful on 95.4 percent of her serves for 203 points.
Sara Sims — 2nd team
Sara Sims capped her Lady Indian volleyball career with an All-District 2nd team nod.
She recorded 86 aces and 440 digs during her two-year varsity tenure, which included 58 aces and 314 digs in 132 sets this season.
"I was really impressed with all of our DS's back there this season. Sarah played left-back for us, and with Alli at middle-back, it is hard to get anything down," Faussett said. "Sarah did a great job covering the dump and any short tip, and she just anticipates very well. She also served really really well for us this year."
Ragan Ward — 2nd team
In her first season on the varsity squad, sophomore Ragan Ward made quite the debut on her way to placement on the All-District 10-5A second team.
Ward accounted for 359 assists, 60 aces and 341 digs on the year. She also appeared in all 144 sets played by the Lady Indians this season.
"She's a sophomore that plays like a senior. She keeps her composure well, and she's probably one of the best ball handling kids that we have," Faussett said. "She can pass. She can set. She can serve. She's very knowledgeable about the game and she doesn't panic. She just brings a lot to our game. She's going to come in and do a great job setting for us next year."
Lacy Mott — Honorable Mention
When Nalls was out with her injury, Lacy Mott stepped up to provide the lady Indians with an outside threat they desperately needed. The 5-foot-7 sophomore outside hitter finished the season with a team-high 339 kills and 18 blocks. She also recorded 143 digs and 31 aces.
"She is a competitor and someone who isn't afraid to swing hard and put the ball away," Faussett said. "She led our team and kills for the season and was just a huge factor in a lot of games for us. She was a little inconsistent at times but that's just going to come with a little more experience. There are just a lot of positives about that kid."
Baylee Whitehead — Honorable Mention
Faussett said sophomore defensive specialist Baylee Whitehead was the "surprise of the year," as she was not in the original plan for the season.
It took just four days of practice and one tournament for the coaching staff to realize her potential, though.
"Bailey was kind of the surprise of the year. We were looking at her to play on the junior varsity as a libero but as we started to look at her and watch a little more closely it took me for five days and she was up with us on the varsity," Faussett explained.
She added, "She is so solid on serve reception. I mean the kid can just pass the ball on a dime. She has the same quickness that Alli has and she's just going to be a great player."
Whitehead finished her season with 305 digs, 434 serves received, and 42 aces in 122 sets played.