It doesn’t take much to motivate the Marcus volleyball team for an upcoming matchup with city rival Flower Mound, but Lady Marauders head coach Danielle Barker had concerns leading into Tuesday’s edition of the annual Mound Showdown.
The night prior to taking the floor against the Lady Jaguars, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, Marcus learned of a season-ending foot injury to senior middle blocker Ifenna Cos-Okpalla.
“I was worried the girls might be sad or down, but they really stepped up. There were a lot of players who helped fill that void and the energy was great,” Barker said.
So much so that Marcus came away with its signature win of the 2021 season, and arguably the program’s biggest victory under Barker, after outlasting the Lady Jaguars in five sets (25-20, 11-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-8) on Tuesday.
“It was really big for our girls. This is something they’ve really wanted. We have a really large senior class and the last time Marcus beat Flower Mound was in my first year back in 2016,” Barker said. “These seniors have gone through almost four years of never being able to beat them, so this is something that they’ve wanted for a while.”
Despite missing one of the state’s premier blockers in Cos-Okpalla, a Texas A&M commit, the Lady Marauders navigated around her absence with strong play at the net from sophomore Rachel Sturton. Barker had been using Sturton as both a middle and right-side hitter off the bench throughout the season.
In addition, Marcus got a boost from its veteran senior class. Barker noted that Flower Mound “couldn’t figure out how to slow down” senior Haidyn Sokoloski on the right side, and senior Maggie Boyd supplied her usual steady production on offense as well as some pivotal defensive contributions on the back row.
“Her defense was incredible. That was a big reason why we won the third and fifth sets. She was on the back row at the very beginning and the end digging everything and giving us second opportunities to get a kill,” Barker said.
The coach also lauded the play of junior Maggie Cox for finding ways to produce on the outside against a towering Flower Mound block.
“We just came out real flat last time we played them with not much energy at all. I also heard from other people that Flower Mound just played an incredible game, and it’s tough to get things going against a team like that when everything is going right,” Barker said. “It was just a complete shift on Tuesday. The energy was different, the girls were more excited before the game than any other that we’ve had this season. What really changed was how we came out that very first set, and that set the tone for the rest of the match.”
The win kept Marcus (10-2) in the chase for the district championship, trailing the Lady Jaguars (11-1) by one game in the league standings following the head-to-head split. The Lady Marauders are currently tied with Plano West in second place, although the Lady Wolves could help Marcus’ cause on Friday when they host Flower Mound — West fell in five sets to the Lady Jaguars in their first meeting on Sept. 28.
Marcus, meanwhile, returns to action at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a road match against a Hebron team entrenched in its own battle for playoff positioning. The Lady Hawks are currently in fourth place in 6-6A at 6-6 following a hard-fought 3-1 victory on Tuesday over Plano East (24-26, 27-25, 28-26, 25-12).
The win was a timely one for Hebron, which snapped a three-match losing streak that has crowded the program’s bid for a playoff berth. Entering Friday, the Lady Hawks had just a one-game lead in the district standings over Coppell and Plano at 5-7. The Cowgirls and Lady Wildcats both picked up wins over Hebron during its aforementioned three-match skid, and Plano topped Coppell in four sets on Tuesday to suddenly create a three-team race for the district’s last playoff spot.
“Hebron’s fighting for fourth place and they’re going to be preparing their butts off to try and beat us,” Barker said. “It’s a must-win for them and they’ll be ready for us. We have two games left and need to finish on a high note. For us, it’s about not getting distracted or relaxed now that we beat Flower Mound. We’ve got to look forward.”
Of the three teams vying for the No. 4 seed, Hebron has the toughest road of the bunch with games remaining against Marcus and Flower Mound. Coppell visits eighth-place Lewisville on Friday and hosts West on Tuesday, while Plano has road games remaining against seventh-place East on Friday and Marcus on Tuesday.
Hebron, Coppell and Plano all split their respective head-to-head series against one another.