After missing out on the playoffs last season for the first time since 2000, the Hebron volleyball team announced its return to the postseason in a big way Tuesday night in Frisco.
The Lady Hawks, who needed to win a three-team play-in tournament last week just to assure their spot in the playoffs, made good on that opportunity by earning the signature win of their 2021 campaign thus far — rallying from a two-set deficit to stun District 5-6A champion Denton Guyer 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 16-14) in a bi-district match played at Lebanon Trail High School.
“The kids have gone to a different gear and it’s been fun,” said Karin Keeney, Hebron head coach. “Since that first play-in game against Plano, they’re showing some real fight, heart and drive that I’ve been waiting to see all season. It was good to see that last night too, and that atmosphere was big as well. It was really intense and just a hard-fought match on both sides.”
The Lady Hawks were one of two No. 4 seeds to upset a district champ in Tuesday’s bi-district slate between 5-6A and 6-6A. Over at The Colony High School, Prosper scored a measure of revenge by taking down Flower Mound 3-1 (12-25, 25-23, 28-26, 25-22) in a rematch of last year’s regional quarterfinal.
“After the first set, we played really well,” said Erin Kauffman, Prosper head coach. “We really began to push Flower Mound. I think they’re used to being in control of all their matches. Once we pushed them later in the game, I think that gave our girls a lot of confidence and we began to see some weaknesses with Flower Mound that hadn’t shown up all season.”
Both upsets required rebounding from a loss in the opening set. In Hebron’s case, it meant weathering an 0-2 deficit after Guyer toughed out verdicts of 25-23 and 25-22 to begin the night.
“I didn’t feel like there was anything that we needed to change or maneuver,” Keeney said. “A lot of it was just us missing key serves after timeouts or a huge point or just making poor hitting errors. We just had to stick to what we game planned for and clean up a couple things.”
The Lady Hawks had been playing do-or-die volleyball for the past week after finishing in a three-way tie for fourth place in 6-6A with Plano and Coppell. Hebron had to defeat both in a play-in tournament to secure the district’s No. 4 seed and rose to the occasion under similar circumstances Tuesday against Guyer.
Keeney lauded her team’s work on defense — digging balls she hadn’t seen all season — and converting those stops into points at the net. The head coach praised the work of her middles, senior Lia Okammor and junior Hannah Redrow, as well as the passing of senior Alessandra Pantoja and the all-around play of senior Harmony Sample to steer a comeback that was closely contested to the finish. Sample, in particular, had a tall order as the primary assignment in defending Guyer mega-hitter Kyndal Stowers.
“I had to talk to Harmony in that third set — I could see she was getting discouraged with [Stowers],” Keeney said. “I had to tell her, ‘That’s going to happen. She’s that good of a player and it’s OK, you’ve just got to come back at her.’ We have to be OK with things like that, and I think that’s something my kids have had a hard time with all year — knowing they don’t have to play perfect. But you have to continue to fight and be persistent.”
A similar mentality served Prosper well after being blistered by Flower Mound in the opening set, 25-12. Despite the Lady Eagles’ youth, Kauffman preached the importance of confidence against a Lady Jaguar team less than one year removed from a run to the state semifinals.
“Flower Mound has this amazing vibe and confidence about them and they’ll step on you if they get you down,” Kauffman said. “Our girls didn’t allow that after the first set and I think there was just a change in attitude after getting that second set.”
Maintaining that swagger was vital for a Prosper team that plays multiple sophomores, several of whom were making their first appearance in the postseason hothouse on Tuesday.
Kauffman lauded the work of 5-foot-6 sophomore hitter Allie Duitsman, a backup who thrived in a starting role against Flower Mound with nine kills and a near-perfect passing clip. Sophomore Ayden Ames, the team’s leading scorer, was a major catalyst on offense with 21 kills on a .410 hitting percentage. She was in sync with senior setter Jazzlyn Ford, who dished out 50 assists in the win, while junior Brianna Martin suppressed Flower Mound’s firepower with 20 digs on the back row.
“I think district was really disappointing for us. Our losses were so close … but I think it set us up to not have a target on our back,” Kauffman said. “Over the years, winning playoff matches was more of a relief than excitement. Last night was really exciting.”
Elsewhere in the area…
*After capturing the first district championship in program history, McKinney North had to work out of some uncomfortable spots in its bi-district match Tuesday against Frisco Independence. The Lady Knights rallied from a two-set deficit of their own to force a fifth set before North ultimately averted disaster with a 15-11 win to advance. Senior Sydney Huck led the Lady Bulldogs with 19 kills and surpassed the 1,000-kill mark for her career, while junior Lily Nicholson eclipsed 1,000 assists after logging 49 in Tuesday’s win.
*While North survived a stern test in its bi-district bout, the other half of the 10-5A championship, Lovejoy, dispatched of Frisco Heritage in three sets (25-13, 26-24, 25-17) to punch its ticket to the area round. The two-time defending Class 5A state champions have qualified for at least the regional semifinal round of the playoffs in each of the program’s 14 postseason appearances.
*Fresh off the best regular season in program history, including an unbeaten run through district play, Celina looked the part in a bi-district blowout of North Hills Prep on Tuesday. The Lady Bobcats, who sport a 36-1 record and are ranked No. 2 in 4A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, swept North Hills by scores of 25-6, 25-7 and 25-9. A win Thursday over Ferris would set up a regional quarterfinal with either Godley or Sanger, the latter upsetting state-ranked Kennedale in the bi-district round. Kennedale defeated Celina in the third round last season.
*For the second straight year, and only the third time since 2005, Newman Smith is in the area round of the playoffs. The Lady Trojans scored a sweep of South Oak Cliff on Tuesday, winning frames of 25-23, 25-23, 25-20. Junior Ledisi Kpea had her fingerprints all over the win with 11 kills on a .455 hit percentage, plus five blocks, to fuel the win. Meanwhile, rival Creekview needed two sets to find its footing Tuesday but couldn’t make up the early deficit in a 3-1 loss to 12-5A champion Lancaster (25-13, 25-14, 25-27, 25-23). Senior Rece Nottingham dished out 18 assists and sophomore Alyssa Luevanos logged 10 kills for the Lady Mustangs.