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Lovejoy volleyball has set championship standards. Its undefeated football team hopes to follow suit

Lovejoy’s volleyball team has won eight state titles in 15 years. Its football team (8-0, 5-0 Div. 7-5A II) has its eyes on adding to the trophy collection.

LUCAS — The trophy case is not lacking at Lovejoy.

Established in 2006, the school has made quick ground on some of its older peers in the championship category. Lovejoy has won a collective 12 UIL team titles in 15 years.

Impressive. Even more so when you consider its volleyball team is to thank for eight. Boy’s cross country and girl’s cross country each have won titles twice.

Football, the crown jewel of most Texas high schools, has none.

But when coach Chris Ross looks at those volleyball titles, he doesn’t see what his team hasn’t done. He sees what it can do.

“When you look at the success of the volleyball program, which is really historic,” Ross, also the school’s athletic director, said. “It turns into, ‘Why not us?’ I think success breeds success.”

Why not us? It’s a question every coach who’s team has playoff eligibility is likely asking this time of year. Lovejoy’s case is strong. It’s 8-0, 5-0 in District 7-5A Div. II play, and ranked second in the state-wide 5A Div. II poll behind only 10-time state champion Aledo.

It’s surrounded by winners, too.

“The girls have been competitive in our own gym, and I think everyone kind of sees that,” first-year Lovejoy volleyball coach Natalie Puckett said. “That’s definitely something anybody can do. Keep the competition alive within your own four walls.”

Lovejoy's Parker Livingstone (18) celebrates with Kyle Parker (4) after Livingstone’s touchdown reception in the first half of a high school football game between Frisco and Lovejoy, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Lucas, Texas. (Matt Strasen/Special Contributor)
Lovejoy's Parker Livingstone (18) celebrates with Kyle Parker (4) after Livingstone’s touchdown reception in the first half of a high school football game between Frisco and Lovejoy, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Lucas, Texas. (Matt Strasen/Special Contributor) (Matt Strasen / Special Contributor)

‘We didn’t come here to lose’

Where Ross goes, winning often follows.

He won at Wichita Falls in the early 2000′s, led Cedar Park to a 57-25 record with a pair of state quarterfinal appearances in 2010 and 2011 and coached Red Oak to a 20-4 record from 2018-19.

Lovejoy football is not unsuccessful historically. It went 45-9 from 2009-12, but hasn’t climbed to the same peaks as its volleyball team — a program which has made the preverbal Mt. Everest of a state championship look more like a Saturday afternoon hike.

But Ross saw something in Lovejoy’s football program when he mulled the job ahead of the 2020 season.

“The more I looked at it, the more I saw the opportunities,” Ross said. “Not what Lovejoy was — because it was good, the guys before me were good coaches — but looking at the foundation of what Lovejoy was, and looking at what Lovejoy could be.”

Lovejoy went 13-1 in Ross’ first season and lost to Aledo by three points in the 5A Div. II state quarterfinals.

“We kind of knew their background, we looked into them,” Lovejoy senior Will Craft said of the coaching staff. “We saw how good they did at Red Oak. So when they came in, we were like, ‘These guys know what’s up.’

Said classmate Lane Droupy: “When these coaches first came in, we knew it was going to be a special season.”

This year has been more of the same. Lovejoy averages 54.25 points per game, and more often than not, leads by so much at halftime that it can bench its starters by the third quarter.

Sophomore Alexander Franklin has replaced now-Oklahoma freshman Ralph Rucker at quarterback, and has thrown for 37 touchdowns in eight games. Lovejoy has four pass catchers with Division I offers. Omari Murdock, Kyle Parker and Parker Livingstone have caught 34 touchdown passes combined. Its defense has allowed just a shade over 10 points per game.

After a 38-15 loss to Lovejoy in Week 9, Frisco (7-1, 4-1 District 7-5A Div. II) coach Jeff Harbert said his team doesn’t “belong with the top teams in the state” while motioning to the opposing sideline.

“I have complete and total faith in what we do, and the guys I do it with every day,” Ross said. “I’ve never gone into a game and thought I was going to lose. We didn’t come here to lose, we didn’t come here to be average. I knew, day one, the kids wanted that. They didn’t want to be average, they wanted to be special.”

Lovejoy players hoist the state championship trophy in celebration after defeating Lamar Fulshear in straight sets. The two teams played their Class 5A state championship volleyball match at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland on December 12, 2020. (Steve Hamm/ Special Contributor)
Lovejoy players hoist the state championship trophy in celebration after defeating Lamar Fulshear in straight sets. The two teams played their Class 5A state championship volleyball match at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland on December 12, 2020. (Steve Hamm/ Special Contributor)(Steve Hamm)

‘This could be us’

Ross stood on Lovejoy’s football field Tuesday morning and praised the school’s athletic teams, as well as its arts and academic programs.

“How about our cross country program?” he asked rhetorically.

Lovejoy’s boys cross country team won its sixth straight 5A regional title hours later. The girls team won its second straight.

Fall in Lovejoy is a fruitful, often dominant season.

“It’s definitely contagious,” Puckett, an assistant coach on last year’s title team, said. “It’s a good feeling. Let’s hope we can keep this feeling going.”

The volleyball team is a year removed from an undefeated season and a 5A state title, and will again be among the favorites to win it again as it’s second in The Dallas Morning News’ area 5A rankings. The volleyball postseason starts next week. Both cross country programs, which will run at the Nov. 5 state meet, are in a position to add to their four collective trophies, too.

Football, two weeks away from the playoffs, is sitting pretty as well. Ross said the school’s volleyball team is an ideal model for his to follow; it’s not a super-team made up of players from across the world. Rather it’s a group of 16- and 17-year-olds who walk the same halls of Lovejoy High.

“They start realizing, ‘This could be us’,” Ross said. “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.”

It won’t take much work to sell the concept to players, either.

“I want it bad,” Craft said. “I don’t want to be known as the volleyball school. I want to be known as the football school. I want it to be, ‘Hey, football can win states, too. It’s not just a volleyball school.”

And from Puckett’s perspective, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

“Our community has all of our programs backs,” Puckett said. “I just think [a football state championship] would be a great thing for everyone.”

Fall dominance

TeamThis seasonHistorical
Volleyball34-6, second in area 5A rankingsEight-time state champions
Boy’s cross country5A Region II champsTwo-time state champions
Girl’s cross country5A Region II champsTwo-time state champions
Football8-0, second in state 5A Div. II rankingsReached state quarterfinals in 2020 and 2009

On Twitter: @McFarland_Shawn

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Shawn McFarland, SportsDay HS reporter. Shawn covers preps for SportsDay HS. He joined The Dallas Morning News after covering UConn basketball, football and high school sports for The Hartford Courant. A Boston area native, Shawn graduated from Springfield College in 2018 and previously worked for The Boston Globe and Baseball America.

shawn.mcfarland@dallasnews.com McFarland_Shawn
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