GARLAND — After three sets largely decided by gaudy runs down the homestretch, the Lovejoy and Friendswood volleyball team made up for lost time with a back-and-forth scrap to the finish line of Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal.
And whereas the Lady Leopards’ state tournament experience might not have necessarily fueled the squad early on in each set, Lovejoy’s (47-5) composure shined through during the match’s most pivotal moments in a 3-1 victory (25-15, 19-25, 25-18, 25-22) over the Lady Mustangs (34-18) at the Curtis Culwell Center.
Now 9-1 all-time in the state semifinals, Lovejoy advances to Saturday’s 5A state championship round for a 3 p.m. bout with Canyon Randall.
“We struggled most of the match and the fourth set was no different,” said Ryan Mitchell, Lovejoy head coach. “We were down 17-14 and took a timeout and we just regrouped and talked about going back to the scouting report and the game plan. We were able to get on a run, and at 22-22, we said something to the effect of us having been there before and this being where, with our tradition and history, we’re supposed to win games like this.”
The Lady Leopards showed as much over the back half of the fourth set, withstanding that 17-14 deficit with a 6-0 run that featured a pair of kills from junior Lexie Collins mixed with four errors committed by Friendswood.
“Lovejoy’s a great team. It was us. When we were playing our game and doing our things, we did well and were successful,” said Sarah Paulk, Friendswood head coach. “Lovejoy was consistent the whole time, we were the team that was up and down.”
That remained the case in the match’s closing moments with a steady diet of shots by juniors Cecily Bramschreiber and Ellie Jonke helping the Lady Leopards pull away for the 25-22 victory.
Bramschreiber led all hitters with 18 kills, complemented by 12 from Collins and nine from Jonke. Sophomore Averi Carlson added 43 assists and junior Callie Kemohah dug a match-high 29 balls.
Although Bramschreiber had a tougher time getting going early in sets on Friday, she shined late in the third and fourth stanzas — totaling 11 kills during those two frames.
“I felt like I wasn’t doing my best but just enough for us to get by,” Bramschreiber said. “Hopefully tomorrow I can bring more energy and create some easier points for us.”
Bramschreiber caught fire late in the third set with four kills over Lovejoy’s final five points — the last point coming on a dig by Kemohah that sailed over the net and fell to the floor for the final point in a decisive 25-18 victory.
That set, like the two that preceded it, were largely dictated by runs on both sides. Lovejoy pulled away big in the third frame for a 2-1 set lead after stringing together another 6-0 run for a 23-14 advantage.
In the second set, it was Friendswood who responded late with an 8-1 surge that broke a 15-15 gridlock and guided the Lady Mustangs to their lone set win of the match, 25-19. Friendswood’s semifinal effort was spearheaded by the play of Makensy Manbeck (14 kills), Tori Weatherley (42 assists), Ashlyn Svoboda (14 kills) and Alessandra Meoni (13 kills).
“We have a really balanced offense and when we were doing it well, it’s really to stop. That’s why we got here,” Paulk said. “But we got a little tense and tight in a lot of points, and that was the difference maker.”
Mitchell added that Friendswood’s ability to generate so much offense through its middles contributed to the stylistic difficulties in slowing the Lady Mustangs at times.
“Their middles’ attack is probably the best I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching. They feed their middles so much,” he said. “They lead the team in attempts and that’s just not something you see in high school volleyball. That creates a matchup that teams aren’t used to seeing and we knew it would give us problems.”
It didn’t help matters that Friendswood began all four sets out in front, with Lovejoy tasked with making up ground midway through its three victorious frames. Mitchell hopes for better consistency in Saturday’s state final against a Randall squad that dispatched of San Antonio Alamo Heights in straight sets earlier in the afternoon.
“If we play like we played tonight, we’re coming home with a silver,” he said. “They’ve got an outside who’s phenomenal and they’re a very storied program, but I have confidence in my girls. I think we’ll get a more focused, intense Lovejoy team tomorrow.”