The Celina volleyball team had a prime opportunity for a chance at redemption Tuesday night when it welcomed rival Melissa to town for a critical district showdown.
This matchup meant much more to the Lady Bobcats than just another meeting with a district rival, seeing as the Lady Cardinals had trounced them out of the playoffs in 2018.
Revenge was Celina’s in this one, as the Lady Bobcats went on to not only defeat Melissa, but they obliterated the defending state runner-ups in sweeping fashion (26-24, 25-15, 25-6) to improve to 2-0 in district play.
“I told them to remember but to also forget,” said Ginger Murray, Celina head coach. “I wanted them to remember how things ended but at the same time to forget about that because this is a new year. It’s a new group and there’s no reason why this can’t be our year.”
Melissa entered Tuesday’s highly anticipated showdown state-ranked at No. 15 in all of Class 4A and is among one of the favorites in the area to make another deep postseason run.
The Lady Cardinals came out firing on all cylinders and soared out to a quick 11-4 advantage early behind strong play from Jacksonville State commit Caroline Kasson, who slammed five kills and recorded an ace in the opening set.
Murray knew the gym would be rocking with a playoff-like atmosphere, and she let her squad know that settling down would be the recipe to overcoming the daunting deficit early on.
Her pep talk in the huddle, along with some costly errors by Melissa, helped knot things up at 15 apiece following an 11-4 Celina run. Then, after falling behind moments later by three at 23-20 after a pair of kills by Melissa sophomore outside hitter Brookle Waltrip, the Lady Bobcats rallied right back with a 4-0 run spearheaded by senior outside hitter Kylee Meares.
After a service error tied it back up at 24-24, sensational sophomore right side Lexi Manning slammed back-to-back kills to complete the comeback and take the first set.
“I told them that the atmosphere in that first set was going to be ridiculous,” Murray said. “You have to just forget the crowd and focus and contain your adrenaline. That was gigantic to come back the way we did and then take the win. It woke a sleeping lion up in each and every one of them.”
After falling behind 6-3 to begin the second after some quality serves from Melissa freshman Saniah Anthony, Murray’s crew rallied back once again behind a collective effort from seniors Casey Thomas, Megan Hodges, Heather Griffith and Meares.
An 8-1 run behind those seniors, who accounted for 10 total kills in the set, soon followed as Celina’s lead quickly bloomed to six at 16-10. From that point on, the Lady Bobcats were in full control, as Hodges closed out the 10-point victory in the second game with a pair of aces to punctuate a 5-0 run.
Instead of taking the foot off the gas and letting the Lady Cardinals back in the ballgame, Celina went full throttle in the third set and started it off with a whopping 15-0 run.
Everything went the Lady Bobcats’ way – from superiority at the net with Thomas and Manning to its dominant defense on the back line with senior libero Alyssa Radtke and junior defensive specialist Sage Murray.
“Sage and Alyssa have played together for three years now,” Murray said. “They know each other so well, and they can think like the other one. It’s such a good duo back there.”
After the unexpected 15-0 start, the game was over by the blink of an eye as the Lady Bobcats never looked back en route to sweeping one of their fiercest rivals.
“Tonight was incredible,” Murray said. “So far, this is the best win of the season.”
Celina will look to keep the momentum going Friday when it takes on Aubrey at home, while Melissa attempts to get back on track at Gainesville.