Another year of high school athletic competition is upon us and, as always, volleyball leads the way. Anna’s Lady Coyotes aim to get back to the playoffs for the first time since winning a district co-championship in 2015.

The teams’ District 11-4A adversaries are the same as a year ago — Melissa, Gainesville, Sanger, Celina and Aubrey. So break out the stadium seats, locate those team schedules and make space on your calendar. The 2019-20 high school athletics season has arrived.

Anna Lady Coyotes

Head coach: Tomika Crosby, 11th year

2018 record: 15-17 overall, 2-8 in district / fifth place, no playoffs

Season-opener: Aug. 5 at Leonard, 6:15 p.m.

District-opener: Sept. 27 versus Melissa, 4:30 p.m.

It’s been four years since the Lady Coyotes last reached the playoffs — and that’s plenty long enough for coach Tomika Crosby and her 2019 charges. Though hit hard by graduation, they’re determined to end that postseason drought this time around.

In her office at Anna High School on July 30, Crosby highlighted two reasons to be optimistic: The current Lady Coyotes are improved passers and should also be stronger at the net.

“Last year didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” Crosby said. “But those are the things we’ve been focusing on since the end of the season and all summer long. We’re in a tough district, with Melissa and Sanger and Aubrey. They always come in with really strong hitters. … I think our weakness was at the net with our blocks.”

Greatly aiding in a turnaround here will be new assistant coach Kristen Massey, a former middle blocker for Austin College, Crosby said.

“Having Coach Massey join us is going to be big,” Crosby said.

Massey will also coach the JV2 squad while veteran varsity assistant Tifney Kelly leads JV1.

Regarding passing, Crosby said, “I have a lot more girls that are capable of passing the ball. I can move them around. Sometimes you have those teams where you have to hide girls and hope the ball doesn’t go to them on that first serve. But this team seems to be pretty solid on the passing. That’s going to be vital. My motto is always, ‘no pass no play.’ If you can’t pass, there’s no play in volleyball.”

Anna’s last postseason turn, in 2015, featured a district co-championship and a bi-district playoff win.

“I told the girls I would love for us to be district champs again,” Crosby said. “I would love an opportunity to be back in that position, but our first goal is to make the playoffs.”

Seven seniors from last year’s squad have moved on. Key among those losses was First-Team All-District libero Julianne Curiel.

“She just didn’t let anything hit the floor,” Crosby said. “She was determined to dig up every ball.”

Also departed is Lauren Schlicht, a Second-Team All-District right-side hitter.

“She played everywhere,” Crosby noted. “It didn’t matter what position – front row, back row – she was there. … No matter where I put her, she was going to help us not hurt us.”

A pair of All-District Honorable Mention picks, setter Bella Boyd and outside hitter Hannah Howell, will also be missed, Crosby said. Then, FeKyra Wells “was that player that everybody underestimated. She would hit those balls that no other player could hit, those sets that were way off the net. And she was just a great energy for the team.”

Lauren Morrison and Brooke Hodge contributed as well, though slowed by injury.

On the upside, Crosby has reloaded with five more seniors — and that spells much-needed experience. Up front, Aubreanna Traylor is ready for a breakout year after a summer well-spent, Crosby said.

“She’s been showing up to the open gyms, she’s been showing up to the skills training and going to all the hitting camp opportunities,” Crosby said. “It’s going to be fun to watch her this year. … I think she’s going to be a force defensively on that block. She was awesome on the front row (last year).”

Crosby added that the goal now is to keep Traylor’s athleticism under better control. Lexi Stewart, an All-District Honorable Mention outside hitter last season, is another potentially dominant senior.

“I kind of bounced her around with the middle and outside last year,” Crosby said. “I think she’s going to be even stronger on the front row for us.”

Alana Pina, a solid defensive specialist last season, may move to libero.

“I don’t know yet,” Crosby said. “We’ll see at tryouts what we have, but she’s a strong passer for me.”

Proficient setter Haley Thornburg returns as well, along with senior outside hitter Rachel Goade who’ll provide height up front.

Qua Fisher, a junior who continues to grow as an outside hitter, is also back.

“She has improved a lot over the summer as far as being a strong hitter and having the timing,” Crosby said.

A tall presence in the middle, junior Madison Williams returns as well.

“In all honesty, I think we’re going to be OK,” Crosby said. “A lot of these girls played last year. I was mixing them in with that group of seniors so they’d get the speed of the game. I think they’re going to be ready.”

Crosby noted that a good crop of newcomers are also on deck. Among the ones she’s seen in action so far are Saniya Myers, Ariel Aronow, Gracie Goade, Kirsten Wright and Kodi McDowell.

As for the district race, Crosby said,

“Every one of our district opponents has strong hitters and they’re defensively solid,” Crosby said of the district race.

She recalled that Melissa, Sanger, Aubrey and Celina did well in the playoffs last year — with Melissa reaching the state tournament — and they all return plenty of players. Crosby doesn’t count out 2018’s last-place team, Gainesville, either.

“Gainesville had very athletic girls, and I feel like once it connects for them, you don’t know what team you’re going to get,” she said. “That’s not a negative, that’s a positive. They are strong girls.”