McKINNEY – The Wakeland volleyball team has been there and done that.
The Wolverines have been the gold standard on the hardwood in Frisco ISD over the past decade and their postseason experience is unmatched by most around the area.
With the bi-district round getting started Tuesday against McKinney North, Wakeland flexed its playoff muscle over an up-and-coming and young Lady Bulldog squad and sent them home in sweeping fashion (25-21, 25-19 and 25-17).
“We had four players that were on this very court last year playing in this round, and we need to take advantage of that experience,” said Kim Watson, Wakeland head coach. “Sometimes you get so caught up about being nervous in a playoff game but we just have to play. We have played over 30 matches, and we just have to do what we have done for that many matches.”
Last year’s Wakeland team finished third in District 9-5A, just like this season, but still made a run all the way to the regional finals before losing to juggernaut Lovejoy.
Much of that ball club is back for another go at it in 2019, while North qualified for the playoffs for just the second time in this decade.
The Lady Bulldogs feature a plethora of underclassmen, including three contributing freshmen in Natalie Hughes, Tinley Merder and Lily Nicholson, and will return all but two players next season.
However, by the way this match tipped off in the opening set, one would think North was the program with the playoff pedigree.
The Lady Bulldogs raced out to a quick 9-5 lead early following a 5-0 run spearheaded by Hughes, who slammed two kills and recorded a block in that stretch.
But whether the nerves for North kicked in, or Wakeland settled down and began to play its game, the Wolverines did not trail for long and came roaring back with a run of their own to tie it up at 12 apiece.
In fact, Wakeland reeled off a 12-3 run down the stretch, led by a collective effort from junior middle blocker Hannah Shaw, senior outside hitter Vivian Osborn and senior outside hitter Sydney Stroh. When that run was all said and done, the Wolverines were up by five at 20-15 and never looked back en route to the first-set triumph.
“Wakeland leaned on its seniority and kept the ball off the floor,” said Libby Rodriguez, North head coach. “They have been here before and were relaxed and composed. This was the first time being in a situation like this for most of my team and there were some jitters.”
The second frame was much of the same with North picking up a quick lead only to let it slip away for good, as Wakeland gained total control after sporting a 7-2 run to take a 12-9 advantage.
Watson and her staff implemented a slight tactical change leading up to this contest and moved certain players around in front of the net, including senior Rylee Williams and junior Elle Williams.
Williams, who normally plays on the right side, was utilized more Tuesday at middle blocker and thrived in the new role with 10 kills and five blocks. After she recorded just three kills in the first two sets, Williams exploded in the third when she was the driving force of a 4-0 run in which she accounted for two blocks and a kill to give the Wolverines a commanding 13-7 lead midway through.
“Even though it wasn’t a popular decision, we decided to look at that tonight,” Watson said. “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do and it worked out well.”
Stroh was also huge down the stretch for Wakeland with four of her team-high 13 kills in the third and decisive set, as the Wolverines advanced to the area round in a rematch with Highland Park.