PLANO — What began as a first for the Plano Senior volleyball team ended in a pivotal step toward a potential playoff berth for Allen.
The Lady Wildcats, once hampered by slow starts early in 9-6A play, managed to wrest the first set from a district opponent for the first time all season on Tuesday. The Lady Eagles, however, had a response ready and procured the following three sets to take a 3-1 victory (23-25, 25-18, 26-24, 25-17) and maintain control of fourth place as the second half of conference play gets underway.
“I’m glad we pulled the win out. I liked seeing that if we had to pull somebody out that we had somebody else come in and step up,” said Kelley Gregoriew, Allen head coach. “Obviously, there’s still plenty to work on, but it was nice to see them come back after dropping that first set. I felt like we were able to take charge more and more tonight.”
Hamstrung early on by passing and serve-receive — something Gregoriew partially attributed to the dynamics of Plano’s gymnasium — the Lady Eagles cleaned things up over the final three sets to nudge back above .500 in district play at 4-3.
After playing catch-up for the majority of the opening set, Allen never trailed over the course of the second stanza — riding a seven-kill frame from junior Maya Detwiler to a 25-18 win that knotted the action at one set apiece. Detwiler went on to lead all hitters with 12 kills in the victory, while junior Maya Joseph chipped in nine and junior Chloe Thomas and sophomore Tori Wilson added seven apiece for the Lady Eagles.
However, it was on the defensive side of the net where Thomas made her presence felt with 10 blocks against the Lady Wildcats, on top of putting down several high-angle kills on offense.
“There were a lot of times when her block at the net saved us,” Gregoriew said. “That kid played great and she also served well tonight. She have been times when she’s struggled with that but tonight she was getting four or five serves.”
Thomas was one of several Lady Eagles who contributed to Allen’s late rally in the third set, overcoming a 23-20 deficit with a 6-1 run that steered control of the match in the visiting side’s favor. Thomas chipped in a kill and block during that stretch, with junior Maddie Wendland icing the comeback with a kill for a 26-24 win.
That frame provided Plano’s most spirited showing outside of an energetic opening set that saw the Lady Wildcats seize their first 1-0 set lead in district play. Sophomores Brooke McHale, Katie Kemp and junior Erin Wiseman all tallied multiple kills in the first frame, and junior Christy Winkler caught fire behind the service line with three aces, to fuel Plano to a 25-23 win to kick off the evening.
“They just had zero fear. They were playing together and were each other’s biggest fan. It worked for us and it was awesome,” said Kaylin Kelley, Plano head coach.
Although the Lady Eagles would right the ship with three straight wins, Kelley saw tangible growth from her squad compared to the last time they tangled with Allen — primarily in how her hitters approached the net.
“Our blocking was better, the defense was making pushes and my hitters aren’t afraid to take big swings all around,” she said. “Obviously, someone like Brooke is never afraid of a big swing, but we got everybody jumping in there taking real swings.”
McHale led the team with seven kills, while Wiseman logged six and Kemp notched four. Winkler’s serving didn’t cool off either, totaling five for the night.
However, with just a 1-6 record in district play, the Lady Wildcats’ odds of extending their seven-year playoff streak are getting longer by the match, particularly in the wake of a season sweep against fourth-place Allen. As Plano looks to translate its flashes of brilliance into the win column, Kelley said the second half of district play will be about further harnessing a self-belief requisite for swinging with the heavyweight programs in 9-6A.
The Lady Eagles, meanwhile, have a chance to buoy their playoff hopes in a big way over the following week with matches Friday against fifth-place McKinney and Tuesday against seventh-place Plano East — all teams Allen defeated during the first go-around in district.
Allen tips off with the Lionettes at 5:30 p.m. Friday while Plano looks to get on track that same time at Plano West.
“I told the team that this week is crucial for us. Our goal is just to stay in the top four because in our district, anybody is capable of beating anybody,” Gregoriew said.