The statistics, accolades, wins and titles tell a story of unparalleled success for the quartet of Caroline Lowery, Cooper Martin, Makayla Mayfield and Stormi Leonard.
But it’s friendship that powers the success of Decatur’s “Fantastic Four.”
“We’re so close. We’re best friends on and off the court,” Lowery explained. “They’re like a security blanket. We’ve played club for years. I’ve been honored to get to play with them.”
Friday the four will don the Decatur blue and white for the Class 4A semifinal at Garland’s Curtis Culwell Center at 1 p.m. to play for a spot in the University Interscholastic League championship on Saturday – the opportunity to win a second state title.
The four know that Friday or Saturday will be their last time together on the floor.
“It didn’t hit me until yesterday when Makayla tweeted out this was the last weekend of volleyball,” Leonard said. “This will be the last time we play together and put on this jersey. It’s sad to think it’ll be over. But it’s also exciting because we really want to win it again.”
The quartet first came together in fifth grade during intermediate school. Since then, they’ve been inseparable.
“We’ve been on the same club team, then played together in middle school and high school,” Mayfield said. “I’m either with them for volleyball or hanging out.”
Sometimes that spills over into the night for impromptu slumber parties.
“I’ve had them stay over on a school night,” Leonard said. “They are my family. My grandparents consider them their grandchildren. I see them more than my family.”
And like family, their relationships thrive on their vastly different personalities – ranging from goofy to intense.
“I’m the goofy outspoken one that is willing to do anything,” Leonard said.
Lowery is on the opposite end.
“I’m the serious one,” Lowery said. “People say they are scared of me off the court.”
Mayfield is the shy one in the group.
“I don’t talk much. Stormi does enough talking for all of us,” Mayfield jokes.
“The four of us keep each other accountable. We know what to say to each other and who will take it the best.”
Martin is the balance of all of the personalities.
“I’m the mix of Stormi and Caroline,” Martin explains. “It’s what helps us get along so well; we are so different.”
Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay agrees.
“They all bring something different,” she said. “At different times one personality is needed, and other times they need to be serious. Sometimes it’s best when nothing is said.
“With them being so different, they’ve been able to gel,” she said. “And with them being such friends off the court, it’s what kept them together and made them into a fierce group.”
After a successful middle school run, the four were identified quickly by Benedict-Gay as future cornerstones of the program. All four made the varsity as freshmen to play reserve spots behind the talented cast of seniors that included Kortney Tompkins and Joey Redwine.
“From the beginning, we knew this was a class to be reckoned with,” the Decatur coach said. “Their freshman season, they played some in different roles. But they were there and learned the system.”
Their sophomore year, the keys were handed over to the quartet to become the team leaders. They guided Decatur to its first region final before falling to Argyle.
At the end of the year, Leonard earned Wise County MVP and Martin the Offensive Player of the Year. Mayfield and Lowery earned all-county spots, and the quartet swept the superlative awards in 9-3A.
As juniors, the team was on a mission – win state. After sweeping their district, they dispatched Argyle in the playoffs in another five-set classic before taking the region title. They then cruised through the state tournament to capture the program’s first state title last November.
“It didn’t hit us what we accomplished until we saw it on TV,” Martin said. “We just did that. Then on the bus ride home, we said doing it twice would be pretty amazing.”
The Lady Eagles battled through an early schedule filled with state-contending 6A and 5A schools, finishing with a winning record. With the quartet leading the way, Decatur swept its district again, extending the program’s league winning streak to 56 games.
“It’s crazy when you think about what they’ve accomplished,” Benedict-Gay said. “They’ve never lost a district match or set. It’s hard to see them go. They’ve definitely set a high bar for the future of Decatur volleyball and will leave large shoes to fill.
“They’ve been like children. I’ve seen them grow not only through volleyball but life.”
After high school, Mayfield is headed to play at Texas Woman’s University with former Lady Eagle Redwine. Martin is going to Dallas Baptist to continue playing. Leonard is planning on playing on the next level, and Lowery has made the decision not to play in college, foregoing several opportunities.
“It’s crazy this is the last one,” Lowery said.
After four years have flown by one win at a time, the foursome has just one fantastic ending in mind – winning a second state title.
“It feels like our freshman year was last year,” Mayfield explained. “It’s crazy we’ve already spent four years playing. Hopefully we can end it on a good note.”
UIL VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland
Friday, Nov. 21
Decatur vs. Robinson, 1 p.m. Argyle vs. Liberty Hill, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 22
4A Final, 2 p.m.