The Temple College Lady Leopards showed early in Tuesday’s match how they can dominate a set. Later, they showed they are just as capable of coming back and winning one, too.
After dominating the opening two sets before dropping the next two, the Lady Leopards rallied from a six-point deficit in the fifth to down the Ranger Lady Rangers 25-18, 25-21, 21-25, 23-25, 15-13 at TC Gym to move into sole possession of second place in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference standings.
“It was a lot of pressure,” Temple outside hitter Skylar Nappier said. “We are fighting for second and ultimately trying to get first, so this was a really big game for us.”
Temple (14-12) and Ranger (14-6) entered the match tied at 4-1 in conference play, just behind North Central Texas. In a fight to be alone in second at the end of the first half of league action, the Lady Leopards came out strong.
Nappier had eight of her team-high 16 kills in the first two sets as Temple dominated, going up 9-0 in the opener and leading the second 12-4 and 18-9 before Ranger went on an 8-1 run to close the gap.
The Lady Rangers were just as tough in the third and fourth sets, leading most of the way in both to force the fifth.
“The final set, it’s go for everything,” Nappier said of the team’s mindset. “Don’t let anything hit the floor and if it does, don’t dwell on it.”
An ace by Justice Isom started the final set in Temple’s favor, and back-to-back kills by Xaria Pickett put the Lady Leopards up 3-0. Ranger fought back and took a 5-4 lead, highlighted by three consecutive aces by Akura Thomas.
After the teams traded points, Ranger rattled off five straight points for an 11-5 lead with an ace and two kills apiece from Jasmin Garcia and Macie Morgan — who finished the match with 12 kills — forcing Temple to call a timeout.
“I was thinking what I would like to hear,” Temple coach Jordan Pickett said. “As a player, I feel like I played better (ticked) off. But I feel like they need affirmation. So I went into the huddle and told them things like, ‘Tell yourself you are going to make plays. When you touch the ball, it’s magic,’ and, ‘I’m confident with the ball.’
“I don’t know if it worked or if they just played better. But I think instead of telling them what to do, I tell them things to say in their head.”
Something worked, because Temple took over. Three straight aces by Reagan Riggins along with a kill by Halle Mitchell cut the gap to 11-9.
A TC service error gave Ranger a 12-9 lead before Temple’s Xaria Pickett and Ranger’s Gloria Guerin, who led all players with 19 kills, exchanged kills to make it 13-10 in favor of Ranger.
The rest of the set belonged to Temple. Kiyah Felder had a kill, Jade Smith picked up an ace to make it 13-12 and Pickett tied it on an attack that was tipped out. Ranger was called for a net violation on the next point and, at match point, Felder set off a celebration with a perfectly timed block on Guerin for the win.
“We haven’t played such a scrappy team,” Jordan Pickett said. “They aren’t hitting crazy hard. They don’t make a perfect dig or pass, and it doesn’t look like they are going to get there, but they get the ball across. So it was probably hard for (our girls) to watch ugly volleyball produce good things. I think it caught them off guard a little bit. It took us a frustrating amount of time to adjust. We finally did the fifth set, when honestly we should have in the third or fourth.”
After a non-conference match against Cedar Valley on Saturday, the Lady Leopards travel to North Central Texas in a bid to earn a share of the league lead.
“I think they are super hungry,” Pickett said. “This game gave them more confidence, but I don’t think it makes them comfortable. Our mindset is, ‘Yes. You have to be good in conference but you have to be good come November 7 at the regional tournament.”