CARROLLTON — For the first time that Hebron head volleyball coach Karin Keeney can recall this season, the Hawks’ gymnasium came unhinged during Tuesday’s regular-season finale against Coppell.
On the final night of the District 6-6A schedule, fans supporting the Lady Hawks and Cowgirls gave the two postseason qualifiers the kind of playoff atmosphere that they hope becomes commonplace once the tournament begins next week.
From the dueling chants traded by opposing student sections to the euphoric cheers following each fifth-set point, Tuesday’s match carried a weight far greater than a typical night on the 6-6A hardwood.
“I told the kids in the locker room afterwards that they needed to go thank the people who came out tonight. They made the difference and they brought that energy,” Keeney said. “When you started to fight, they started to pep up, because they had something to fight for. That’s the first atmosphere like that I’ve seen my kids play in this season.”
The Lady Hawks didn’t let that fanfare go to waste, pulling away with six of the final eight points in Tuesday’s fifth set — the last being an ace by senior Isabelle Ousby that careened off the hands of the Coppell back row to seal a 3-2 (25-21, 17-25, 21-25, 25-21, 15-11) victory for Hebron in a battle for third place in the district standings.
That bronze finish belongs to the Lady Hawks, who concluded their 6-6A campaign at 10-4. Coppell, meanwhile, takes fourth at 9-5.
“We told our kids that the playoffs have basically started,” said Julie Price, Coppell head coach. “Tonight, this was it. Even with the outcome, we would definitely rather finish with this type of competitive match heading into the playoffs. Now everyone is 0-0.”
The Cowgirls had their moments on Tuesday, rebounding from a 25-21 loss in set one with wins in the second and third frames — something Price attributed to more crisp passing, which led to a torrent of offense from junior Madison Gilliland (16 kills) and senior Peyton Minyard (11) — and even establishing a 19-15 lead in the fourth set.
The Lady Hawks chipped away with timely points from senior Cassandra Dyoub and sophomore Harmony Sample, which triggered a 10-2 run to force a fifth and decisive set. The finality of the fourth frame didn’t come without a dash of controversy, however, with set point decided on a swing by Minyard that, after some deliberation between the officials, was ruled as having gone out of bounds without touching a Hebron player.
“It was a touch. There was no way the ball plays off the net at the angle she hit and goes out of bounds,” Price said.
Extending the bout to a fifth set, the Lady Hawks and Cowgirls contested six ties and three lead changes in the race to 15 points — the last coming on an ace by junior Brooke Nichols for a 10-9 advantage. Two Coppell errors and a kill by Hebron senior Nnedi Okammor, who came live with four kills in the fifth set, followed to stake the Lady Hawks to a 13-10 lead before Okammor and Ousby helped polish off the victory.
The win marked Hebron’s fourth in its last five matches and was particularly gratifying for Keeney during what has been a trying season off the court.
“That’s the first time we’ve pulled out one like that,” Keeney said. “I lost some time with them after my father was killed in a car wreck, so I had to go home for about three weeks in August and I missed 23 matches with them. That’s the first fight I’ve seen out of them at the end of the match when it was stressful. That was really good to see.”
Sample led the Lady Hawks with 14 kills and five blocks, while Nichols chipped in 13 kills and Okammor added nine. Ousby’s match-winning point came on her third ace of the match to go along with 26 assists.
“I feel better after tonight, for sure,” Keeney said. “We showed some spirit and some guts and intestinal fortitude that I haven’t seen out of this group all year. This was definitely something we can build on.”
The Lady Hawks look to do so in next week’s bi-district round of the playoffs, which begins with a 7 p.m. Tuesday tilt at Colleyville Heritage against 5-6A runner-up Denton Guyer. Coppell, meanwhile, draws Trophy Club Byron Nelson, currently ranked No. 3 in 6A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Keller Central.