For the second time in four years the Randall Lady Raiders are back in the University Interscholastic League state volleyball tournament.
Being there is great, but the Lady Raiders’ (38-8 overall) sole focus is looking for their first state title since 2009 when they play in a UIL Class 4A semifinal against Huffman Hargrave (33-13) at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
This is the also the second time in four years that Randall makes a state appearance under head coach Haleigh Burns. Burns says it’s much different this time around then her first appearance as a coach in 2019 when Randall was a Class 5A state runner-up, because she feels this is her complete program now.
“In 2019 when I came in, Randall had come off a state tournament the year before with (former head coach) Jason Culpepper,” said Burns, who is 126-32 in four years at Randall. “I had inherited a powerhouse team and I just had to keep the wheels in motion and not screw it up. This is not taking away from 2019 because it was my first year to go a state tournament and I built a special relationship with that team, but this senior group now is my first group of freshmen. It’s kind of different feeling like this is more my team now and a special group that has earned every bit of this.”
Not only has Burns mentality changed over four years but Randall High School has taken on a complete overhaul. With Canyon ISD’s recent addition this past fall of West Plains High School, giving CISD three High School’s in the district, Randall not only dropped into Class 4A, but took a hit when it came to splitting students to the new school. It’s been a major adjustment to Burns and her volleyball program as well after graduating 11 seniors off a Class 5A regional finalist squad from last season.
“I’ve known about the West Plains split since I got hired,” Burns said. “I was ready to cross that bridge, but it came fast last January. There were a lot of things up in the air and it was new to everyone. We lost a lot of players that participated on the varsity, I lost my entire freshman team and my JV team, plus managers. That’s just how it happened. We have a lot of multisport athletes so there were days we’d have four players at volleyball offseason.”
Instead of complaining or lashing out, Burns and her team rallied around each other becoming as close as ever behind a talented group of underclassman and senior leadership from Libero Tatum Brandt and outside hitter Tori Lowry. Brandt and Lowry have unique stories to be where they are today. Brandt has come off two different ACL surgeries since her eighth-grade year, and Lowry has become a go-to player after spending her first three years on JV. Being the leaders in the middle of a difficult transition, both Brandt and Lowry knew they had to step up starting in the summer.
“We all came closer together,” said Brandt, who has 667 digs this season. “After the transition lats spring we knew we were all we had. We didn’t have many players in the offseason, so we knew it was up to us to keep everyone together and make this happen. But as you can see our chemistry is unmatched and here, we are.”
Lowry echoed Brandt’s comment.
“I used it as motivation,” said Lowry, who has 285 kills this year. “This is what our team looks like now, so we have to focus on ourselves and the job we have to do. I was trying to push that these players are gone, and we have to believe in what we stand for and work hard. I think we’ve shown what we are capable of.”
Burns is grateful for the senior leadership and says that Brandt and Lowry have come so far since they were freshman.
“If you’d told me Tatum was going to be the calm to the storm when she was a freshman, I’d called you crazy,” Burns said. “That’s not her at all. She’s high energy, she’s very competitive, but she is the glue that keeps us together. Tori is nicknamed “Momma T”. She is such a sweet girl, and we always joke with her she is the one that puts the team in our place. Their spirit and hearts really push us through.”
As for winning it all, that’s been on Brandt and Lowry’s mind from the time they were freshman watching the 2019 team make a state run.
“I’ve been thinking about winning a state championship at Randall for so long,” Brandt said. “I told coach (Haleigh) Burns as a freshman we were going to get back to the state tournament and we were going to win it. Being my senior year and getting this last shot is so rewarding.”
UIL Class 4A State Volleyball Tournament
At Curtis Culwell Center, Garland
Randall (38-8) vs. Huffman Hargrave (33-13), 5 p.m.
Aubrey (38-9) vs. Bellville (39-10), 7 p.m.
Saturday’s state championship