FRISCO – Heading into the third set in Tuesday’s season opener on the volleyball court between Celina and Frisco Independence, things were looking bleak for the Lady Bobcats.
The Knights had just taken the first two games in convincing fashion, but a dominant stretch in set No. 3, a late rally in the fourth and then another scoring explosion in the fifth and final frame flipped the script.
Celina went on to pull off the impressive comeback on the road for the thrilling 3-2 victory over Class 5A Independence (18-25, 18-25, 25-18, 25-23 and 15-8) to start the year 1-0.
“Coming back like that is just amazing,” said Ginger Murray, Celina head coach. “They know the possibilities this year and know they can go as far as they want to go. They have been hungry for a month and couldn’t wait for the season to start. Typically kids don’t want to go back to school, but my kids have been ready to start.”
These two foes faced off in the 2018 season opener a year ago in a contest that also went five games but in favor of Independence.
Murray had strong praise for the playoff contender out of District 9-5A following the win and knew a rematch against the Knights to start the 2019 campaign would be a challenge.
“I believe Independence is even better this year than last year,” she said. “I don’t know where they rank in their district, but we’re not going to see stuff like that in our district. They have some powerful girls that swing hard, and you don’t see that every day in 4A.”
A couple of those players Murray referenced to were sophomore setter Hayden Hicks, senior middle hitter Secily Orr and junior outside hitter Emma Thompson, all of whom stand nearly six-feet tall.
The trio combined for nine kills in the first and 10 more in the second set, as Independence was not challenged down the stretch in each of the first two games.
Late in the second set, Independence seemed to be on its way to a sweep after it reeled off a 6-0 run late. That was soon followed by a wild rally back and forth that resulted in an exciting point for the Knights before Orr threw down a thunderous kill to put her squad in front, 23-17.
With the entire momentum heading into the third, Celina compiled scoring streaks of its own after falling behind, 6-5, on another Orr kill, and never looked back in a 25-18 win to remain alive.
The Lady Bobcats kept the match going despite losing senior middle hitter Casey Thomas early in the contest to a hip injury, as Murray was forced to plug in other players in unorthodox positions. Murray was also using the first meeting of the young season to see what some of her players were made of and received a massive boost off of the bench in the third set win from junior outside hitter Heather Griffith.
Independence had no answer for Griffith in the third, as she slammed four pivotal kills before various other players ramped things up for Celina in the fourth.
“I have some depth on the bench this year,” Murray said. “I didn’t have that luxury last year, and they are all just go-to players.”
After falling behind 10-6, the Lady Bobcats bounced back with a 6-0 run, which was soon accompanied by a 4-0 run spearheaded by Griffith, to take an 18-15 advantage.
However, an ace and kill by Thompson and back-to-back kills from Orr put independence back on top. The lead was short-lived, though, as the Knights failed to close out the set after a service error and a pair of mistakes handed Celina the 25-23 triumph in the fourth.
The Lady Bobcats then never trailed in the fifth, as an ace by senior defensive specialist Sage Murray late in the match put her team up nine at 13-4, and they never looked back en route to the miraculous come-from-behind win.
“Nothing was going to prevent them from not taking this win and starting this season with a win,” Murray said. “They wanted to set the tone, and I think that’s what we did.”