The Lebanon Trail volleyball team entered the week as one of just two teams (Liberty) without a district loss in 9-5A action so far this season.
The Lady Trail Blazers put their undefeated record against Frisco ISD on the line when they visited perennial powerhouse Wakeland Tuesday night.
In a back-and-forth slugfest, Lebanon Trail held off various comeback efforts from Wakeland and tamed the Lady Wolverines in four sets (29-27, 21-25, 25-15, 26-24).
In the previous meeting a year ago between these two programs, it was Wakeland walking away with a convincing 3-1 triumph over Lebanon Trail, and Lady Trail Blazers head coach Elise Swearengin liked what she saw from her squad in the rematch on the road.
“It was a little bit of revenge,” she said. “It’s a great feeling and the girls are really excited.”
From the opening serve, this showdown had the look and feel of a postseason match as the two heavyweights traded blows throughout the first set. In fact, neither side was able to pull ahead by more than two points until the very end after Lebanon Trail erased Wakeland’s 20-18 advantage on back-to-back kills from senior middle blocker Aisha Dorsey and senior outside hitter Rayna Williams.
Thunderous kills and dazzling volleys back and forth soon followed, including a dominant stretch from Lebanon Trail junior middle blocker Tyrah Ariail after the Lady Wolverines went ahead, 24-23.
The USC commit took over with a monster kill to even things up at 24 apiece before she showed off her defensive dominance with a big-time block and kill to put her squad back in front.
But Ariail then exchanged kills with Wakeland senior right side Rylee Williams, as the first frame flew into overtime knotted up at 26-26.
After Wakeland went up 27-26 on an unforced error, the Lady Trail Blazers paved their way to victory and sprung together a 3-0 run capped off by another huge block at the net to win, 29-27.
Ariail slammed six of her team-high 19 kills in the opening set and provided problems for the Lady Wolverines all night long.
“They are super, super athletic and are big on top of that,” said Kim Watson, Wakeland head coach. “That adds an entirely different dynamic to it.”
Instead of lying down after losing momentum in the loss, Watson’s unit rallied with an impressive second set in which they never trailed en route to a 25-21 bounce-back win.
However, the third set was an entirely different story even after starting things off with a 4-0 run.
The early deficit and squandered second set did not faze Lebanon Trail one bit, as it strung together four separate 3-0 runs and a 5-0 streak and cruised to a 10-point, 25-15 victory to take a crucial 2-1 lead.
“I’m frustrated from our standpoint because we come back in the second and then just go lay an egg in the third,” Watson said. “You can’t do that in this district. You can’t continually have to fight from behind. I have a heavy-senior group and they ought to know that. It’s that roller coaster that volleyball is for everyone, but we have to get off of it at this point in time.”
Swearengin, on the other hand, believed the turnaround in the third was a product of her team being a year more experienced.
“That’s just that maturity that we had been searching for and working on,” she said. “They were determined to turn around their level of play tonight.”
She also knew closing things out on the road against Wakeland would not be easy and as expected, the Lady Wolverines did not go down without a fight even after Lebanon Trail led 19-13 late.
A 5-0 Wakeland run, spearheaded by two aces and a kill from junior middle blocker Hannah Shaw and senior outside hitter Vivian Osborn, got the Lady Wolverines back within one at 20-19.
However, three kills from Rayna Williams soon followed to extend the Lady Trail Blazers’ lead to 23-21 before consecutive kills from Wakeland’s Rylee Williams and an error handed Wakeland its first lead of the set at 24-23.
But once again the Lady Wolverines were unable to force a fifth frame, as Ariail tied it up at 24-all before an unforced error and game-winning kill from senior outside hitter Kacie Johnson sealed the deal.
“Last year’s team had a lot of grit,” Watson said. “We have to find that and understand what that is this year.”
Wakeland looks to regroup and get back in the win column Friday when it takes on Memorial, while Lebanon Trail hosts Independence.