Lovejoy cruises past Centennial in bi-district round

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Centennial senior Zairyn Hemsley

Centennial senior Zairyn Hemsley recorded four blocks in the Lady Titans’ loss Tuesday night in the bi-district round to Lovejoy.

McKINNEY – The Lovejoy volleyball team, ranked No. 1 in all Class 5A, wasn’t tested until the third round of the postseason a year ago en route to a state runner-up finish.

That appears to be the case once again in 2019, as the Lady Leopards started the playoffs with a rather convincing bi-district victory in sweeping fashion (25-15, 25-11, 25-22) over Frisco Centennial Tuesday night.

The triumph marked win No. 42 on the season for Lovejoy, and things were never in doubt for one of the state’s elite programs against the fourth-place crew from District 9-5A.

As for the Lady Titans, their turnaround season comes to an end much sooner than they had hoped after they picked up steam in the second half of district play and got in with an 11-7 district record.

It marked the first time Centennial has reached the playoffs since 2014, and although the regular season was a success, head coach Kari Bensend believes her squad was capable of achieving even more.

“I know they aren’t going to be happy about this because as a team we didn’t play our best game,” she said. “But that’s a different kind of talent on the other side of the floor, and you can’t take anything away from that. Lovejoy is just a good team and has a lot of firepower.”

That firepower was on full display all match long, spearheaded by junior outside hitter Cecily Bramschreiber’s game-high 19 kills and 13 digs. The TCU commit helped the Lady Leopards pull away for the 10-point victory in the first set after Centennial kept things interesting in the early going with the score deadlocked at 7-7.

However, the second set is where Bramschreiber came alive with eight kills en route to Lovejoy’s dominant 25-11 beatdown over the Lady Titans.

Junior middle hitter Lexie Collins was also a key component to the Lady Leopards’ success in the second set, as she added four of her 10 kills and tallied a pair of blocks as well.

Instead of letting the first two defeats demoralize its morale going into the third, Centennial proved why it was one of the top teams in Frisco ISD despite falling behind early, 10-4, and then 15-8 minutes later after various unforced errors.

Junior middle blocker Kennedy Gilliam then sparked a 5-0 run with a thunderous block followed by a kill to get things started.

The 5-0 streak forced a Lovejoy timeout and got the Lady Titans back within striking distance at 15-13, as the two slugged it out until the very end.

In fact, Centennial kept things within at least three points down the stretch but was unable to crack the code and surge ahead, and the Lady Leopards held on despite the valiant comeback effort.

“Volleyball is kind of a funny game,” Bensend said. “When we finally calmed down I think we played pretty well against them.”

In the loss, Centennial was paced in kills by sophomore outside hitter Alexa Long’s nine and senior and USC commit Samantha Hastings added seven. Senior middle blocker Carrin Smith led all players in blocks with five, while senior Zairyn Hemsley contributed four more of her own as well.

All in all, Centennial concluded its campaign with a 26-14 overall record, while Lovejoy advances to take on Creekview in the area round, set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Frisco Lone Star.

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