By TONY EIERDAM
KENNEDALE – With an inexperienced team and a squad that had to replace 11 seniors from last year’s area-championship qualifiers, going in to Kennedale’s gym and facing the Lady Kats can be a tough task.
But for the second match in a row between the Mineral Wells Lady Rams and Kennedale, the Lady Rams came out swinging and did not back down.
However – and you can call it growing pains if you will – Kennedale prevailed, but it wasn’t easy on the second-place Lady Kats.
Paced by hitters Maggie Pyles and Rachel Dixon, who combined for 25 kills, the Lady Kats slipped past the Lady Rams, 25-14, 25-20, 25-19 here Tuesday night in a District 6-3A match.
Pyles led all hitters with 15 kills while Dixon added 10 stoppers. Brittany Guill led the Lady Rams with six kills, with Ashley Valdez adding four.
Kennedale came out strong with an 11-point win in the opening game of the best-of-five match, but the Lady Rams got stronger as the match wore on.
But Kennedale’s net play and experience came through at the end of the second and third games.
“We just started working together as a cohesive unit in the second and third games,” Lady Rams head coach Taylor Eggleston said. “We were also communicating much better.
“We worked on a lot of (defensive) things in practice (on Monday) that I hoped would translate and carry over to this game, but I didn’t see those things carry over.
“We missed getting some touches on a lot of balls Kennedale sent down, and we did that in practice but not in this match. I felt like we let some balls hit the floor that we were picking up in practice.
“But I also felt in the second and third games we eliminated a lot of mistakes we made in game one. But it still wasn’t enough (to win the match).
“I feel like we could have beaten Kennedale, and I came into the match feeling we could.
“And I told the girls that before the match I felt they could because that’s how I felt.
“That’s why this is kind of frustrating. But I am proud of the girls for competing the entire match.”
Game two was tied on nine occasions before settling at 15-15. The Lady Rams had jumped out to a 6-3 lead after a kill by Guill after a pinpoint set from Erin Burgeson and an ace by Kaleigh Aaron.
MWHS also held an 11-9 lead but Kennedale used three different hitters – Emma Riffe, Kylie Foster and Jodie Dixon – to send down kills as the hosts took a 12-11 lead.
After a block by Rachel Dixon gave the Lady Kats a 16-15 advantage, Kennedale went on a 7-3 run to take a 23-18 lead.
After two return errors by Kennedale cut the lead to 23-20, Riffe recorded a kill from the left side to bring game two to game point. On the next rally, Jodi Dixon fired an ace to give the hosts a 2-0 lead in games.
Kennedale jumped out to a 13-10 lead in game three before MWHS began to rally.
On the ensuing rally, Valdez slammed a kill off a feed from Burgeson, who finished with 15 assists for the match, and Burgeson then found Guill for a kill to cut the lead to 13-12.
A kill each by Riffe and Pyles extended the hots’ lead to three points, but the Lady Rams went on a 4-0 run to take a 16-15 lead. On the run, Valdez registered a kill and Kennedale committed a return error, but Aaron came up big with two aces to frustrate the Kennedale defense.
Kennedale scored the next point before kills by Guill and Emily Rogers – both on feeds from Burgeson – gave the Lady Rams an 18-16 lead.
However, Kennedale kicked it in gear at the next, scoring the next five points for a 21-18 lead courtesy of a pair of kills from Marissa Brennan and Pyles and a stopper by Morgan Cates.
Kennedale scored the next point for a 22-18 lead on a Lady Rams’ return error. But the rally was kept alive by a one-arm dig by Kennedale’s Dixon, and the play appeared to spark the Lady Kats.
Kennedale brought game three to match point after a Lady Rams’ return error followed by a kill from the right side by Foster.
Two rallies later, Kennedale ended the match on a back-row kill from Dixon.
“There were a lot of close points and moments when the games were tied in games two and three,” Eggleston said. “It’s just a matter of knowing how to push through those to moments.
“I think some of that ... I don’t want to take this year for granted and I’m not. We have seniors who given their all to their volleyball program, but we are also putting new players together for the first time.
“So matches like (Tuesday) are good team-building experiences that will help us next year. Don’t get me wrong, I am not thinking about next year by any means, but in some key moments we are starting to learn how to push through to the end.
“This group hasn’t played together very long, and when you graduate 11 and replace that with 11 new ones then it is still a learning experience even this late in the season.”