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Burnet Lady Dawgs’ unparalleled success in 2021-22 confirms their coaches were right about the athletes

Three Burnet High School girls sports teams reaching regional tournaments in 2021-22 makes it the most successful for the Lady Dawgs in the history of the program, said girls athletics coordinator Rick Gates.

Gates, who also serves as the Lady Dawgs head basketball coach, noted he checked with sports historians and those who have been associated with Burnet sports for decades, who all confirmed they never witnessed a year quite like the one that just ended.

“I believe our volleyball team, it’s the second time they made it to regionals,” he said. “Our basketball team, it’s the third time overall to regionals and the second time they made it the regional final. And our soccer team made it to regionals for the first time. And it’s still pretty young. It’s the sixth or seventh overall year since we started soccer. They made it to area two different seasons. Regionals is brand new stuff for soccer.”

In addition, tennis player Zaida Freeman reached the Class 4A state quarterfinals in girls singles, breaking a 12-year drought of a Lady Dawg playing at the state tournament.

One reason for the success of the three teams might be the number of seniors who logged significant minutes. The volleyball team had eight players, while soccer had seven. Seven seniors were on the basketball team. Coaches knew the talent of this class, which left only one question, Gates said.

“You never know how far you can go,”‘ he said. “We felt like we were definitely strong enough to compete for different championships.”

As a result, coaches strengthened each team’s non-district schedule, which meant taking some losses early to get mentally stronger for the most important contests that were still coming. The volleyball team had an 11-17 record headed in District 19-4A play but earned a 10-1 record in district for a share of the co-championship with Salado. That meant playing a third match on a neutral site to enter the playoffs as the district’s No. 1 seed. Burnet won that match in three straight sets. That set the course for winning three consecutive postseason matches.

“Volleyball played a tough non-district schedule,” Gates said. “They were taking their lumps and had an injury to a setter, Rylee Hernandez, that didn’t help. They got her back and got hot and played well in district. They were disappointed when they lost to Salado. Going into the seeding game, they felt they should have had the No. 1 seed. They played with a lot of confidence and (beating them) gave them even more confident and felt like they could compete at a high level. When they went in the playoffs, they felt good.”

As the volleyball team was enjoying a season only one other Lady Dawgs squad experienced in that sport, sitting in the stands were members of the basketball, soccer and softball squads, Gates said. It’s easy to cheer for one another when the Lady Dawgs do their strength and conditioning together twice a week before heading to different facilities to practice their own sports. And because some volleyball athletes play other sports, the ones who don’t play volleyball find it very easy to cheer on the volleyball team. Most importantly, each athlete had the same belief that they could win at that high level, too, the coordinator said.

The basketball team won the district championship and reached the Class 4A Region III finals before losing to Sour Lake Hardin-Jefferson 64-39. The soccer team was third in District 18-4A and lost to Bay City 1-0 in a Class 4A Region III semifinal.

“Success breeds success,” Gates said. “They see volleyball is having success early in the year, maybe it propels them to work harder, that in Burnet we’re capable of doing great things.”

Gates added this type of success in one school year requires different people stepping up, including coaches who cheer each other on by attending contests when their sports are not in season.

“We had some gifted athletes in that 2022 class that we demanded in all five sports to work hard and to be coachable,” he said. “They got better and helped the teams progress, they reaped the benefits of hard work. I think they also understood they relied on underclassmen; they couldn’t do it all as a group. There’s no doubt there’s some good senior leadership. Without that leadership, we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were.”

As for the 2022-23 sports year, Burnet faces some familiar foes in district play that includes Jarrell, Georgetown Gateway, Lampasas, Lago Vista and Marble Falls in volleyball. All but Gateway are in the basketball district, and soccer is one of eight teams in its district.

“I want everybody to understand we’re only going to go as far as the team can take us,” Gates said. “It takes a team effort, and we always talk about how hard it is to win. So we celebrate that win before we look ahead to the next one.”

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