For a team that hadn’t played a match in 11 days, Plano West looked no worse for the wear in an emphatic start to its District 9-6A volleyball campaign on Tuesday.
Kills from senior Jill Pressly and sophomore Kaila Garnett on the match’s first two points laid the groundwork, as the Lady Wolves won 10 of the first 15 points up for grabs against rival Plano Senior, paving the way for a 3-0 sweep (25-11, 25-14, 25-23) and a 1-0 start to district play.
“It was fun. I can’t complain. It got a little exciting in the end, but we stepped it up when we needed to,” said Justin Waters, West head coach.
For at least the first two sets, the Lady Wolves looked every bit the part of a team currently ranked No. 6 in Class 6A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association. Be it at the net or behind the service, West was nothing short of overwhelming in sprinting out to set wins of 25-11 and 25-14 against the defensive-minded Lady Wildcats. Pressly’s versatility was on display, accruing six kills, 10 digs and four aces in the win — including numerous serves that froze the Plano defense and snuck just inside the corner of the hard court.
“[Pressly] was in the zone,” Waters said. “It all comes down to her confidence level, and when she’s more focused on ripping it and not making errors, she gets back there and we can get a lot of points off her serve.”
Senior Iman Ndiaye spearheaded the offense with a match-high 12 kills, while junior Avery Lowe logged eight kills and senior Noelle Piatas hammered down four.
But as the Lady Wolves have been wont to do this season, the night didn’t come without some anxious moments during a third set largely controlled by Plano. Despite trailing for the entirety of the first two sets, the Lady Wildcats rode a surge of three consecutive kills from sophomore Brooke McHale to seize a 4-3 lead that didn’t wither anytime soon.
“It took them a second to realize that our youth can be a strength and warm up to playing such veteran players,” said Kaylin Kelley, Plano head coach. “By the time they learned that in the third set, they were on fire and ready to push. It just took them a second to realize it.”
Despite West at times having the three or four tallest players on the court versus the undersized Lady Wildcats, Plano still managed to deter a slew of West shots at the net, which contributed to 12 errors in the third stanza for the reigning state semifinalists. At one juncture, the Lady Wolves went 21 points in between kills and trailed 16-11 as a result.
“We just lost focus and that’s kind of been the story of the year for us so far. We’ll do really well in the first couple sets and let the other team get back in it,” Waters said.
Waters added that he isn’t concerned with that mindset seeping into West’s efforts later in the district schedule against programs like Prosper and McKinney Boyd, noting his club’s penchant for handling pressure and performing well in big matches this season. Waters saw as much late in Tuesday’s third set as the Lady Wolves regrouped late to assure the sweep.
Despite a spirited surge by Plano, which led 22-20, West rattled off five of the next six points — including two kills apiece from Ndiaye and Pressly — to seal the 3-0 win.
“When the pressure is on and we have to step up in big matches, they’ve stepped up to it,” Waters said.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s loss dipped the Lady Wildcats to 0-2 for their district campaign, dropping outings to West and Allen, and both in a fashion Kelley hopes to correct quickly.
“We can’t afford to start off slow. We can’t have a learning set,” she said. “Our last two matches, the first set has been about feeling things out and we can’t do that. We need to be on the attack from the very beginning.”
One thing that Kelley hopes will spur more showings akin to Tuesday’s competitive third set is channeling the team’s youthful exuberance and energy — plenty of which was on display between players like McHale (seven kills), junior Ellie Talent (six kills), and, particularly, sophomore Emmy Summers (four kills).
“I’ve told the girls about using our youth as a strength is feeding off that energy and how much it brings,” Kelley said. “As for Emmy, that’s her at 6:30 in the morning. We want to bring more of that youthful energy into a game that has become so serious at this point.”
Indeed the stakes have raised, and with nothing but matches against some of the most talented teams in the Metroplex on the docket for the rest of the regular season, Plano seeks its first district win at 6:30 p.m. Friday at McKinney. West, meanwhile, visits Boyd at the same time.