GARLAND — For the second time in less than 24 hours, the Plano West volleyball team’s hopes of a state championship required going five sets. But for all the joy the Lady Wolves derived from Friday’s 3-2 semifinal thriller over Fort Bend Ridge Point, that elation belonged to Trophy Club Byron Nelson on Saturday.
The Lady Bobcats, ranked No. 1 in the nation, polished off their first-ever state championship in a 3-2 victory over the Lady Wolves (21-25, 25-12, 22-25, 25-15, 15-7) in the Class 6A final at the Curtis Culwell Center. The loss denied West its initial state title, concluding the Lady Wolves’ deepest postseason run ever at 40-6 on the year and with the 6A runner-up trophy.
“It’s nothing to hang your head about. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we’d be going to five in the state finals against the No. 1 team in the country, I would have been super pleased with that,” said Justin Waters, West head coach. “It’s just a little upsetting to the girls. Some of them didn’t play up to their normal abilities and it’s just a tough way to go out, but they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
Saturday’s 6A final was a fitting end to the volleyball season, with West and Nelson chalked with enough college-caliber athletes to make Division I coaches dizzy. But for all the star power on the floor, the best resided on Nelson’s side of the net as junior and tournament MVP Charitie Luper took over the match with three kills and a block during the final set en route to 25 kills on the night.
Luper’s barrage contributed to an 8-2 start for the Lady Bobcats, with West unable to steady the tide with three consecutive attack errors early in the fifth set. Nelson capitalized, hitting a staggering .438 in the fifth frame, compared to minus-.080 for West.
“It’s just a momentum thing. It’s a big match and once you see that they’re starting to pull away by two or three or four, you start to tighten up a little bit,” Waters said. “It’s all about momentum, and they just happened to start off with it in the fifth set and rode it out.”
When momentum was on the Lady Bobcats’ side, it was tough to wrestle away. Nelson’s fifth-set win was preceded by dominant efforts in the second and fourth frames, where it established leads of 8-0 and 6-0, respectively, and won both sets.
“We’re a team that’s a little craftier in finding ways to get kills, and they’ve got some big hitters, so when you have some big blocks and big swings like they did, that’ll get the crowd into it and put some pressure on us,” Waters said. “Ultimately, it’s all momentum and that’s what they had.”
Nelson’s hot start in the fourth set ultimately denied the Lady Wolves their initial crack at being the first team to three sets after the Lady Wolves toughed out a 25-22 third set to take a 2-1 lead in the match. That frame featured 14 ties and five lead changes — the last belonging to West, which broke a 22-22 stalemate with three unanswered points, including two aces from junior Ashley Le, to seize temporary command of the contest.
“Early on, [Le] served a little more conservative and was just trying to keep it in. I had to have a talk with her and told her to be aggressive and rip the ball to get them out of system,” Waters said. “That really put some pressure on them and that kept us in a lot of sets.”
Le went on tally six aces in the loss, while West’s offense was fueled by a 27-kill night from senior Iman Ndiaye in her final high school match.
“[Ndiaye] played great. I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Waters said. “She went out aggressive and kept swinging and put the whole match on her shoulders, but just fell short.”
Senior Jill Pressly added 15 kills and senior Noelle Piatas chipped in five, with Le adding 39 assists and junior Lindsey Zhang logging 25 digs. It wasn’t enough to combat the firepower of Nelson’s vaunted duo of Luper and Paige Flickinger, however, with Nelson’s top two hitters combining for 45 kills in the win.
“All you can try to do is slow them down,” Waters said. “They’re tough to stop, but you just have to try and get some hands in front of them and try to slow it down for the defense. You have to execute every time and you can’t take a single point off against a team like that.”