By TONY EIERDAM
Putting together its first two-match winning streak in District 6-3A volleyball play, the Mineral Wells Lady Rams defeated the Castleberry Lady Lions, 25-17, 25-17, 25-22, Friday afternoon at home to solidify their position in third place.
Beginning this year the top four teams in each district qualify for the state playoffs, and the win over Castleberry has sets the Lady Rams up well in the playoff chase.
Lady Rams head coach Taylor Eggleston was pleased to see her team come back and finish in each game. The Lady Lions took early leads in all three games only to watch the Lady Rams do what was necessary to clinch each contest.
“We played a good, overall match, and even when we got down we came right back to take leads,” Eggleston said. “I liked the way we took the leads at the end of the games, and in the past that hasn’t been the case.
“(Friday) we were able to not only get back in games but when we took leads late we kept scoring points and got the wins to clinch the match.
“The girls showed some character, and the girls showed some fire and they were not going to be denied.”
Although she did not discuss it with her team, in her mind Eggleston felt it was a must win as the team heads toward the second half of district play. A fourth-place finish would mean facing a district champion in the opening round of the playoffs.
“I felt this was a must-win match leading into the second half of district play,” she said. “Had we lost we still could have made the playoffs, but this win sets us up to paint a prettier picture.
“But we need a win to help us stand alone in third place. Four teams make the playoffs, and it is a lot tougher to win in the playoffs by finishing fourth.”
The Lady Rams were aggressive at the net and were led in kills by outside hitter Brittany Guill with nine. Sydney Vasquez added five kills, with Bethany Allen and Bailey Simonton each with three stoppers.
“I feel (hitter) Brittany (Guill) played very well,” Eggleston said. “She was getting on top of the ball and swinging accurate and hard, and she had some really good kills.
“Bailey (Simonton) also blocked well and scored 11 service points in the first game.”
Castleberry led 2-1 in the opening game before a kill each by Vasquez, Guill and Allen combined with two Lady Lions’ return errors and two aces by Allen helped the Lady Rams to an 8-3 lead.
But the pesky Lady Lions, a much improved team from last season, hung around and trailed just 16-15 later in the contest.
However, paced by a kill each from Allen and Ashley Valdez, three CHS return errors and a block by Guill, the Lady Rams went on a 6-0 run for a 22-15 cushion.
MWHS brought the opener to game point on a kill each from Guill and Allen of feeds from setter Erin Burgeson, who recorded a match-high 20 assists.
On the next rally, libero Mason Malone fooled the CHS defense with a back-row kill to seal the opener.
In game two, Castleberry jumped out to a 3-0 lead and built an 11-7 cushion.
But the Lady Rams squared the game, 12-12, after consecutive aces from Allen.
The game was still tied, 15-15, when CHS committed consecutive return errors, and that was followed by a 6-0 MWHS run to give the hosts a 22-15 lead. Guill recorded two kills in the run, with Simonton adding a stopper.
MWHS took a 2-0 lead in games when Bre Hinojos fired two straight aces to clinch game two.
In game three, again, Castleberry took the early lead, 5-3. But five rallies later the Lady Rams took a lead they would not relinquish.
A block by Simonton brought game three to match point, and on the ensuing rally Burgeson fired an ace to clinch the match.