In a district like 6-6A, making the playoffs is a task all by itself.
Although Coppell had flashes of brilliance against state power Flower Mound and Marcus, the Cowgirls found themselves at 0-2 in league play following those two losses. This is a program that has qualified for the playoffs every season since Julie Price became head coach in 2011 – a streak that extends before her initial hire.
Not wanting to make it three consecutive losses, Coppell regrouped Tuesday night and notched a 3-1 win (25-20, 25-12, 20-25, 25-17) over Plano East inside Coppell Sports Arena. Coppell improved to 7-5 overall and 1-2 in 6-5A. East dropped to 1-5, 0-3.
"We understand that it's going to be a dogfight and come down to the last couple of matches, and everyone is a playoff contender," Price said. "We didn't want to stress about being 0-2. We knew that we had played some really good teams. But there is that mental part where you want to put one in the win column and feel better about yourselves. They were a really good team. That was a good win."
East showed they are a really good team.
The Lady Panthers led in all four sets with their strongest play coming in the early stages of each game.
In the first set, East took leads of 5-2 after a kill by Mamie Krubally, 7-3 on a kill by Riley Hemphill and 15-13 after back-to-back blocks by Sarah Holcomb.
Coppell’s offense came to life moments later. Junior Abby Hendricks jump-started a 12-5 Cowgirl run with a kill. Sophomore Skye LaMendola hit the ball hard all night and she added to Hendricks’ contributions with two kills and a block during Coppell’s late-game push.
In the second set, East took advantage of a few errors by Coppell to race out to a 3-0 lead.
But the early deficit didn’t rattle the Cowgirls.
Coppell found its game and roared back with a huge 25-9 run. LaMendola continued her strong play on the front row with four more kills.
“There has definitely been some growth and she's developing a larger toolbox of shots,” Price said of LaMendola. “We've got four or five sophomores on the court. She's doing some good things for us."
Midway through the second set, junior Haley Holz served seven consecutive points, including two aces. Holz’s effectiveness behind the service line helped Coppell turn what had been a four-point lead into a comfortable 18-7 advantage.
Between the second and third sets, East assistant coach Nikki Pugh delivered a fiery speech in the huddle, urging her Lady Panthers to refocus and up their level of intensity.
East’s players heeded the coach’s message.
The Lady Panthers led for almost the entirety of the third set, taking leads of 11-6 on a Holcomb block, 14-8 on yet another block by Holcomb, 18-13 after a Tayah Little and 22-17 on a block by Caitlyn Pinaga.
Feeling a swing in momentum, Coppell senior middle blocker Madison Gilliland and senior defensive specialist Beca Centeno urged their teammates to stay positive in a message delivered in the Coppell team huddle between the third and fourth sets.
"I felt like we were struggling,” Gilliland said. “My message was, 'Stay calm. Stay together. We've got this. We're the better team. We can do this.'"
And stay together, they did.
Centeno and Gilliland backed up their words with each player recording two aces early in the fourth set to help Coppell race out to a 7-2 lead. Gilliland had four kills and three aces in the set.
LaMendola fired home three more kills in the match’s final set with the final one ending East’s hopes for a comeback.
"We definitely needed to win this game to build our confidence and to get us a good spot in playoffs,” Gilliland said. “We had to go in this match with the mindset that there is no option other than winning. We took care of business tonight."