If there’s something to be done on a volleyball court, Chelsi Gill did it this year.

La Vega’s senior captain and by far its most experienced player, Gill was a rock for the Lady Pirates to lean on all season.

When they needed her to hit, she hit. When they needed her to set, she set. When they needed her to make a play on the back row or from the service line, she was able to do that, too.

In all, the super-athletic 5-foot-5 Lady Pirate averaged a triple-double with 10.1 kills, 15.2 assists and 12.3 digs.

La Vega needed every bit that Gill could give, as it was trying to break a string of 16 straight seasons without making the playoffs.

The Lady Pirates were in dire straights with only a few matches remaining, but picked it up down the stretch to forced a District 17-3A third-place playoff with Lorena.

A four-set win there broke the Lady Pirates into the postseason and helped Gill earn the district MVP honor.

Now, after carrying the Lady Pirates to the verge of the regional tournament, she can add the Super Centex Player of the Year award.

“It means a lot,” Gill said. “I never thought I was going to win an award like this.”

Gill claimed the award over Blum’s equally versatile middle blocker Madison Williamson and a pair of kill machines in Crawford’s Ky Foster and Gatesville’s Ashley Cook.

But she and La Vega weren’t satisfied with just getting in. They wanted to win some matches, and they did just that.

They took out perennial power Caldwell in four sets in bi-district, then avenged a five-set loss to Mexia from the regular season with a four-set decision in area. That left the Lady Pirates facing a third matchup with West, the 17-3A champion.

Although they weren’t able to come up with a victory, ending the season one win shy of the regional tournament, La Vega left the postseason satisfied with all it had accomplished.

“It was very different,” Gill said. “We were good, but I didn’t think we would make it this far. But this year, we got together and had group talks so we could get along. Then we all just started coming together as a team and trusting people on the court.”

Gill shared setting duties with her freshman sister, Kobi, and despite her lack of ideal height, was at her best when using her sheer athleticism to rise above the block and put the ball on the floor.

“Her vertical is something like 27 inches,” said Suzette Gill, La Vega coach and Chelsi and Kobi’s mother. “She can get up. She’s so athletic, so Chelsi can make plays the average kid can’t make. She can go get a ball you shank and bring it back into the court because she’s so quick. That track speed kicks in, and it’s great to have such an all-around player.”

Chelsi quickly embraced her role as a leader, and helped bring the team along after its slow start to where the Lady Panthers eventually ended up.

Whether volleyball is in her future plans, she isn’t sure, but she’s definitely not done with athletics.

“I’m either going to play volleyball or run track,” Chelsi Gill said. “I don’t know which one I’m going to do yet because I like them both.”

Coach of the Year:

Suzette Gill  La Vega

Every year when La Vega starts volleyball season, it’s beginning at square one.

The Lady Pirates are always loaded with talented athletes, but lack experienced volleyball players who play the sport year round.

So the season is always a building process, and coach Suzette Gill has to hope she can mold her team in time to have a chance to reach the postseason.

With the help of her daughters in senior and Super Centex Player of the Year Chelsi and freshman Kobi, along with a group of players who all gained confidence as the wins came late, she did just that.

Despite finishing third in district, Gill was named the 17-3A Coach of the Year, and after earning the first playoff victories of her career, she’s also the Super Centex Coach of the Year.

Gill was genuinely surprised when she learned of winning the award, because of the number of teams and coaches who turned in fine seasons.

Those include Blum’s Lauren McPherson, Chilton’s Megan Miller, Crawford’s Jeff Coker and La Vega’s district rival West and coach Sandy Dickerson.

“I’m still excited about (the season),” Gill said. “I wish we could have played a little longer, but we started to peak late in the season and the girls started to really believe in themselves. It was great, but it’s all about team. When Chelsi and Kobi at setter started believing in the other hitters, we gelled and started to focus more on them. That’s when it all happened for them.”

Hitters Denise Anderson, Brianna Sanders and Erin DeGrate, along with libero Calveion Landrum all appeared to be more comfortable in their roles as the season went along, and the Lady Pirates went from just a team that was fun to watch to one that could win.

“It happened probably in the second half of district,” Gill said. “We decided as a team that we can play at a really high level. We had a couple people watch us and say, ‘Man, I love your team. They’re fun to watch.’ When we started winning at the end of the year, they started believing in themselves. I thought then that we were going to go deep in the playoffs.”

Gill hopes this season wasn’t an abberation, and the success will convince more interest in the sport at La Vega, where basketball and track are the pre-eminent girls’ sports.

“This is awesome, it’s great for La Vega,” Gill said. “It’s good for our program, it’s good for our school, and I hope some good things come out of it. I’m hoping we’ll continue to do this for awhile.”

Newcomer of the Year:

Abigail McKenzie  West

With the team West had coming back from last season, it didn’t need a star addition to be competitive.

The Lady Trojans got one anyway, although it took a little while for Abigail McKenzie to find her niche during her freshman season.

“In the beginning, she was kind of timid,” West coach Sandy Dickerson said. “But the girls helped her out and took her in, and she was a great asset to our team.”

Joining a senior-laden squad that welcomed her with open arms helped McKenzie play freely, and she turned into one of the team’s most dangrous weapons by the end of the year.

She used her rifle of a right arm to rack up 205 kills and 75 aces, but also became a solid back-row player as well.

The 17-3A Newcomer of the Year was instrumental in the Lady Trojans’ run to the regional final, and that continued brilliance has earned her the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year award.

She edged La Vega’s Kobi Gill and McGregor’s Devon Norwood for the honor.

Dickerson said she saw a change in McKenzie at an early-season tournament.

“When we played Robinson, one of her teammates from her club team plays for Robinson and she realized, ‘I’m not going to let (the varsity game) intimidate me any more,” Dickerson said. “She had a great game against them, and I think that was the turning point for her.”

McKenzie gained valuable experience during West’s postseason run, and will lean on that in the future when she’s called upon to be the team’s leader.

“I’m looking forward to three more great years and continuing to build and progress with her and all the players,” Dickerson said.



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Player of the Year: Chelsi Gill, La Vega

Newcomer of the Year: Abigail McKenzie, West

Coach of the Year: Suzette Gill, La Vega

First Team

Pos Player Class Height School
MB Ashley Cook Sr 5-6 Gatesville
MB Ashley Renegar Sr 5-11 West
MB Madison Williamson Sr 5-11 Blum
OH Ky Foster Jr 5-9 Crawford
OH Chelsi Gill Sr 5-5 La Vega
OH Allison Jones So 5-10 Midway
S Mary Speights Sr 5-5 Mexia
S Jordyn Villa Jr 5-4 Crawford
L Megan Chambers Sr 5-5 Gatesville
L Tori Phillips Jr 5-4 Crawford


Second Team

Pos Player Class Height School
MB Stormi Call Sr 6-1 Bruceville-Eddy
MB Jacoya McCullen Jr 5-9 Groesbeck
MB Ariel Ballard Sr 5-8 Mexia
OH Ashley Johnson Sr 5-7 Mexia
OH Laine McGinty Jr 5-9 Midway
OH Lauren Nichols Sr 5-6 Gatesville
S Baillie Junge Sr 5-7 Blum
S Paige Chambers Sr 5-5 Gatesville
S Christy Carruth Jr 5-7 Midway
L Karina Wilson Jr 5-1 China Spring


Honorable Mention

Whitney Doyen and Shelby Friudenberg, Bruceville-Eddy; Taylor Ligawa, Chilton; Ellen Whitney, Crawford; Katie Andrie, Katie Billeaud, Kina Cummings and Courtney Gruesendorf, China Spring; Hailye Reynolds, Groesbeck; Kobi Gill, La Vega; Brittany Connally, Kaymee Gooden, Cheyenne Goodnight and Ashley Nutter, Mart; Devon Norwood, Hailey Reineke and Kayleigh Ripley, McGregor; Que’Shea King and Aliyah Ransom, Mexia; Angel Summers, Midway; Ashley Crowder and Kara Kolar, West; Kelsey Leech and Sara Neiman, Whitney



First-team profiles


Middle blocker

Sr., Gatesville

TGCA all-stater had more than 18 kills per match, 143 total blocks for regional quarterfinalist



Middle blocker

Sr., West

17-3A hitter of year also earned TGCA all-state honor after lifting team to regional final appearance



Middle blocker

Sr., Blum

One of area’s top all-around players had 634 kills, 229 blocks, 232 digs, 78 aces for regional finalist



Outside hitter

Jr., Crawford

Blossomed into go-to hitter to finish with 560 kills while also adding 394 digs to earn district MVP



Outside hitter

Sr., La Vega

Player of Year showed elite versatility by averaging triple-double and was picked as district MVP



Outside hitter

So., Midway

One of two Pantherettes to play every rotation, finished with 317 kills, 192 blocks, 39 aces



Sr., Mexia

Three-time first-teamer closed career with stellar season that included more than 1,000 assists




Jr., Crawford

Stayed vital to Lady Pirates’ offense with 1,029 assists, 379 digs despite being limited with bad shoulder




Sr., Gatesville

TGCA all-state pick was top defender in 8-3A with 525 digs, served at 95 percent clip with 1.5 aces per match




Jr., Crawford

District 21-2A defensive MVP picked up nearly 1,000 digs to help start attack for regional semifinalist




Fr., West

Earned 17-3A Newcomer of Year honor, gave West valuable hitting threat with 205 kills, 75 aces




La Vega

Guided Lady Pirates to first playoff berth since 1995, two victories in postseason after slow start to season