The volleyball season kicked off in earnest Tuesday, as the Texas Girls Coaches Association's second-ranked 6A squad, Plano West, traveled to square off with Hebron.
West, a team brimming with talent at every position, was challenged by a Hebron club with a formidable pedigree of championships. At the end of the night, though, it was the Lady Wolves that collected their first victory of the year with a 3-1 defeat of the host Lady Hawks.
The turning point in the game immediately followed the third set. After West raced out to a 2-0 advantage (25-15, 27-25), Hebron appeared to stem the tide with a 25-22 win in the third frame.
Then, the No. 2 Lady Wolves put their foot on the gas pedal. Going on a 19-3 run in the fourth set, West jumped out to a 23-5 lead and effectively ended the match. After punishing hits from seniors Jill Pressly and Iman Ndiaye, West cruised to a 25-8 final in the fourth set to clinch the victory.
“I think the real turning point in the game came in the third set. We were humbled a little bit as a team [by] losing that set. Just because we were ranked No. 1 [by the Dallas Morning News] doesn’t mean we are going to get everything easy,” said Justin Waters, West head coach. “We got lucky, I think, at the end of the second set, and we struggled in the third.”
Pressly was the best player on the floor all night long for the Wolves, finishing with 21 kills and just four errors to go along with nine digs. Ndiaye ended the night with 10 kills and four digs against five errors.
Plano West senior Sydney Yap and junior Ashley Le each turned in 21 assists in the contest, with junior Lindsey Zhang posting a team-high 13 digs. Le also fired off six service aces and fell in behind Pressly and Ndiaye with six kills of her own.
The second set proved to be the most entertaining portion of the night. After a comeback flurry by West, which was down 22-18 in the frame, the Lady Wolves were able to tie the game at 24 before earning the narrow set victory.
Still, Hebron head coach Karin Keeney said she’s already seen a change in attitude from a 2018 squad that failed to meet the program’s lofty expectations.
“I think it was much better than last year. This team was competing, and they were coachable, and that is a lot better than we were last season. We were gassed in the fourth quarter, a bit, but we will continue to stay at the conditioning,” Keeney said. “I thought we played really well in the middle of the game, and we were feeding our middles.”
Keeney was excited for the season ahead after a valiant performance in the opener against one of the best teams the Lady Hawks will play all year. Leading the pack for Hebron were sophomore Harmony Sample and seniors Nnedi Okammor and Isabella Ousby, with Okammor playing a huge role down the stretch in the second and third sets.
“This loss will not define us or our season. I think our girls were excited for this challenge tonight, and they were embarrassed by last year’s finish. I love that about them – that they were ready for the challenge and wanted it,” Keeney said.
For Waters, there is an embarrassment of riches on his squad. With five Division I commits on board, not counting the younger, uncommitted players, he said success in 2019 will be about mixing and matching combinations of players to find out how his team will reach its optimal state.
“We have a lot of talent and not enough space on the court. It is a good problem to have. We have a lot of good utility and auxiliary players on the bench, and I was trying to go with different looks and combinations to see how it fit,” he said. “We have players that can play multiple positions, and we are still moving pieces around.”
Hebron will be back in action in the Marcus Showcase against Grapevine Friday, while Plano West will take part in the Nike ASC/LISD Classic this weekend in Carrollton.