Stephenville (25-15) has a tradition of big hitters on its front line. This year, the Honeybees have more than just hitting to hang their hat on.

“We’ve been playing great defense. A lot of times those players get overlooked, but they are really the unsung heroes of our team,” says Stephenville head coach Fran Metzger, whose club battles Birdville in a Class 4A Region I area playoff at 6 p.m. today at Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City. “Without them we wouldn’t have had near this much success.”

While Christina Murphy has worked her way near the top of all area kills charts and Bailey Williams and Kaylee Davis have alternated attacking offensively from the middle block, it’s the backline defenders who have kept most opponents from getting their own hitting on track.

“Several times I’ve had officials tell me it’s like I have five liberos,” Metzger said. “All of those girls are very talented.”

Senior libero/defensive specialists Mara Christian and Macy Moncrief anchor those efforts along with junior defensive specialist Kensie Colegrove. Murphy has also proven more than capable at gathering digs when she rotates to the back, and Gaby Chavarria has begun making a name for herself with strong defensive play.

“The defense has been the key for us. We have to keep playing as well as we have the rest of the way,” Metzger said.

In addition to defense, Metzger listed nerves and passing as the keys to tonight’s match.

“We can’t be nervous because that’s when we start making mistakes and you can’t do that against a team like Birdville,” Metzger said. “And we have to pass the ball well.”

Beating Birdville is a tall order for any opponent as the Lady Hawks, who won the District 5-4A championship and swept Denton 25-15, 25-13, 25-12 in their playoff opener, feature a senior middle blocker in Caitlyn Juarez who has topped 1,000 kills in her career. She had 16 kills in the bi-district win.

The Lady Hawks also picked up strong performances from sophomore Ellen Sorrells (nine kills) and freshman Allie Plunk (29 assists) against Denton.

But the Bees have momentum, too, with three consecutive straight-set victories including Tuesday’s 25-16, 25-14, 25-15 beat down of Fort Worth Arlington Heights and last week’s seeding-match sweep of rival Granbury.

“Birdville is good, but they’re beatable,” said Metzger, whose clubs haven’t won an area title since 2006. “If we play the way we did against Granbury we have a good chance.”