GLEN ROSE — Moments before the third set, the six Belton Lady Tigers who were about to receive serve huddled together. They all had smiles on their faces, suggesting a different reality than what they actually faced, down 2-0 in the match against Waxahachie.
It’s as if they knew there was fight left in the tank. It’s playoff volleyball, after all.
Backed into a corner, Belton indeed battled to stay afloat by taking the third set, erasing an eight-point deficit in the process. The Lady Indians, in the postseason for the 20th consecutive year, withstood the pushback, however, and sealed their Class 6A bi-district triumph 25-16, 25-14, 24-26, 25-8 on Tuesday night.
“I’m definitely proud of them for coming back in that third set. I felt like that was the set where we looked the most how we are capable of playing,” Belton head coach Krystal Yerigan said. “Unfortunately, our headspace wasn’t where it needed to be tonight. We talked about that. But, I feel like, they, in the moment, gave everything they had.”
Which is what Lady Tigers fans had grown accustom to this season, a campaign in which Belton spent time atop the District 12-6A standings before eventually finishing third and closing the year with a 23-19 record.
It was the final match for seniors Kendall Dollar, McKenzie Mansell, Karly Hansen, Gabi Benson, Jaiden Estevez, McKenna Maddux, MyKaela Johnston, Emily Revis and Kylie Blomquist. And as all the Lady Tigers made their way back through the gym postmatch to meet friends and family, they were greeted with applause. Yerigan understood why.
“(The season) was an absolute blast, and I couldn’t be more proud of not just the players but the type of humans they are. And that’s what really makes this group so special,” she said. “They are phenomenal young women and it’s sad that this is our last opportunity to play together, but I have no doubt that our seniors are going to go on to do great things and they’ve left a legacy for our younger athletes.”
Waxahachie, the second seed from 11-6A that advanced past the first round for the 19th time during its lengthy 20-year playoff streak, improved to 32-16. The Lady Indians will play either Rockwall or Garland Rowlett in the area round.
“Sometimes, we’ve had easy games, sometimes we’ve had tough games, but, I guess, we’ve somehow managed to get through that first round,” Waxahachie coach Sandy Faussett-Stoops said.
This one can be classified under the tough category, given the amount of work both sides had to do to score points. Two skilled front rows and stingy back lines made hitting difficult throughout, but the Lady Indians’ up-tempo option often helped them break through.
Makaelyn Perez paced Belton with seven kills. Mansell had three kills, 12 assists, two aces and a block, Revis had three kills, and Johnston posted three blocks.
Mia Sanchez had a match-high 13 kills for the Lady Indians, who had three players with at least 10 kills. Amber Morgan and Jh’Kyah Head were the others. Head also had four blocks and Savannah Johnson chipped in seven kills. Taylor Cavazos and Maddie Fuller combined for 42 assists.
The teams looked in Game 1 as though they’d spend most of the night tied. It was knotted as late as 11-all before Waxahachie seized momentum and scored 14 of the next 19 points for a 1-0 match advantage.
Ahead 6-4 in the second set, the Lady Indians put together a 7-0 run that ultimately created enough cushion to last the remainder of the game, during which they led by as many as 12 points.
Game 3 was headed down a similar path when the Lady Tigers bowed their necks and hit back.
A 5-0 burst from Waxahachie put it in front 13-5. Belton countered with an 8-0 charge that included kills by Perez and Mansell and a pair of aces from Malorie Holman to tie it.
The Lady Indians responded with four in a row and, again, the Lady Tigers answered, this time with a 5-0 run that featured a kill from Carson Thiebaud and a block apiece by Revis and Johnston for an 18-17 lead.
Waxahachie staved off two set points before Belton closed it out. The momentum didn’t last, though, as the Lady Indians embarked on early runs in Game 4 of 5-0 and 8-0.
“We kind of took a while to settle down tonight and then in the third set our execution was way off,” Sandy Faussett-Stoops said. “We just simplified everything and just executed better and that was the difference in the fourth.”