WACO -- After falling just two set wins shy of a state title last season, the Prestonwood Christian volleyball team left nothing to chance in Saturday's TAPPS 6A championship match.
It didn't matter that the Lady Lions were playing a team that had already taken them to five sets earlier in the season or an opponent they were seeing for the third time this year.
All season, there has been no denying this Prestonwood team, ranked No. 9 in the nation by MaxPreps. That remained the case on Saturday from Waco University High School, as the Lady Lions put a bow on a resounding 2022 campaign with a 3-0 sweep of rival Bishop Lynch (25-20, 25-19, 25-20) to clinch the fifth state championship in program history.
"We talk at the beginning of the season about how it's natural to want to fast-forward to the end to be able to pick up where you left off from last year," said Ryan Mitchell, Prestonwood head coach. "But there's value in that journey and having fun in the moment and with the process. We went toe-to-toe with the best UIL teams in the state ... and then to do what we did this weekend and beat [Lynch] 3-0 after previously going five and four sets with them, this was a statement."
FINAL: @PCAAthletics 3, Bishop Lynch 0STATE CHAMPS!!! Macaria Spears hammers down championship point and Prestonwood has its 5th TAPPS state volleyball title. Fitting end to an incredible years, as the Lady Lions finish up a staggering 40-1! pic.twitter.com/uOcWWk7NlA— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) November 12, 2022
The Lady Lions finished off a 40-1 season, winning their final 28 matches. Only once during that streak, however, did an opponent push Prestonwood to five sets — a 3-2 win on Sept. 13 where the Lady Lions nearly let a 2-0 set lead get away. Lynch then managed to take the first set in the district rematch on Oct. 6 before falling 3-1.
Prestonwood had reason to be on guard in its return to the TAPPS 6A state final, but the Lady Lions instead responded with the most decisive result of their three meetings with Lynch. Through the first two sets, Prestonwood only trailed at two points — 3-2 and 4-3 in the opening frame.
The Lady Lions led the dance at seemingly every other turn, breaking open the first set midway through with a 5-1 run that included two kills from sophomore Macaria Spears and an ace by junior Camille Edwards.
Spears was locked in from the get-go in her first appearance in the TAPPS state finals, racking up seven kills and an ace in the opening stanza. The Lady Lions' kill leader, she went on to bury 14 more through the Lynch defense over the second and third sets.
"It really starts with my teammates and coaches. We did a lot of scouting on where to hit and what shots would be open," Spears said. "My teammates were calling out open shots for me during the game. Just playing as a team really helped and we really leaned on each other."
Junior Kennedy Washington hammered down set point for a 25-19 win, a familiar spot for the Lady Lions after the team had sprinted out to a 1-0 lead on Houston St. Agnes in last season's state title match. Things unraveled back then, as St. Agnes went on to win the next three sets, and Prestonwood's response to early prosperity on Saturday was indeed on Mitchell's mind.
"You're wondering about it, but that's something we've talked about," he said. "We didn't shy away from it. We looked back on what we did in set one that was so different from set two and how can we adjust to make something else happen this year. The confidence was there this time and this whole group is so much more mature. Our offense had a little bit more variety than it did at this time last year."
It's only fitting then that Prestonwood recorded three kills from three different hitters to open the second set, laying the groundwork for a 5-0 start and what ultimately swelled to a nine-point lead at 13-4. Spears had five kills alone during that stretch.
But Lynch, a battle-tested group in its own right, had a response.
A cadre of hitting errors by the Lady Lions jump-started a run of six consecutive points for the Lady Friars, who whittled their deficit down to two points at 15-13. Blue-chip blocker Lyric Berry was active in the rally, posting three kills and two blocks for the set.
But part of the maturity of the Lady Lions, Mitchell said, has been knowing how to handle those big runs by an opponent. And in one fell swoop, a kill and block on consecutive points by Spears helped restore order for Prestonwood.
"I think just the ball-to-ball discipline and staying locked in," Mitchell said. "These matches tend to go long and you can lose focus, and momentum swings in volleyball are unlike any other sport. I thought we did a good job of controlling the momentum. Any time they'd get on a run of three or four points, we'd get a big kill, take a breath and come back with two or three more points.
@PCAAthletics takes a 2-0 set lead on Lynch after a 25-20 win in set 2. Block ends a dizzying set for the Lady Lions, who led by as many as 9 before Lynch went on a 6-0 midway thru the set. PCA responds behind 9 kills and a block from Macaria Spears + 3 kills by Mikala Young. pic.twitter.com/oilydBpzuM— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) November 12, 2022
Spears, junior Jadyn Livings, junior Mikala Young and sophomore Gillian Pitts received all-tournament nods for Prestonwood.
Young, committed to TCU, chipped in three kills to help the Lady Lions gain separation in the second set, countering Lynch's 6-0 surge with a 7-1 run. And Livings, a USC pledge, showcased her balance throughout the third set with four kills, two aces and two blocks.
"We were very determined. There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears just leading up to this year after what happened last season," Livings said. "There was a new group of players and still a really young team, but we were very determined to get it done this time."
Having already seen a 2-0 set lead disappear against Lynch earlier this season, Prestonwood took control midway through the third frame to put the state championship within reach. Despite four kills from Lynch's Leah Oyewole and three more from Berry, the Lady Lions strung together a 4-0 run for a 16-12 lead they never relinquished.
Lynch got as close as 21-19 before Prestonwood scored four the next five points, capped by Spears' 21st kill, to complete a redemptive return to TAPPS volleyball supremacy.
"It feels amazing. We've been working towards this all season," Spears said. "We knew coming in that it would be a hard match against BL because they have an amazing team. They have some really good hitters on their side, but we knew that if we just stayed controlled on our side and played how we knew how to play that we could win."