By TONY EIERDAM
JACKSBORO – Beginning this year, Class 3A qualifies four teams to the playoffs from each district, and it is indeed an almost impossible task for a fourth-place team to defeat a district champion in the first round of postseason play.
So when the Mineral Wells Lady Rams – the fourth seed of District 6-3A – trailed two games to none to the state-ranked No. 11 Iowa Park Lady Hawks here in a bi-district playoff match, the District 6-3A champion, they did not let their highly-regarded opponent off the hook easily.
Although Iowa Park managed to win game three, 25-16, the scrappy Lady Rams made the Lady Hawks fight for every point and made a statement that MWHS does have a solid volleyball program and next year will look to add to the school-record consecutive playoff appearances.
The 25-9, 25-11, 25-16 Iowa Park win also gave the Lady Hawks a little revenge as it was the Lady Rams who eliminated the Lady Hawks from the 2012 playoffs.
Lady Rams head coach Taylor Eggleston was proud of her team and feels they were the group that helped make the Lady Rams a solid volleyball program. In the four years Eggleston has led the Lady Rams MWHS has made the playoffs in three of those seasons.
“I feel these ladies have represented our program very well,” she said. “This group was the first in school history to make it to the playoffs in back-to-back years, and they have set a standard for Mineral Wells.
“Last year we won the school’s first volleyball playoff win and this year it was back-to-back years in the playoffs, so these ladies have set a standard.
“This group has helped raise the expectations for the volleyball program, and I think the volleyball program is a positive thing.
“It is positive for the volleyball program and positive for the community,” Eggleston continued. “Once you have gotten a taste of the playoffs you want more.
“Now we have an established program, and it shows with the number of kids we have coming out for volleyball every year.
“We now carry more kids than ever on our three teams because there is so much interest. The talent is also there. The volleyball program is like our own little family, and we spend a lot of hours together.
“I, and our coaching staff, couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Iowa Park dominated the net in the first two games of the best-of-five match. IP hitters Bre Smoak and Halee Langen along with middle hitter Rylee Hodges had their way at the net. Smoak and Langen each recored 10 kills for the match with Hodges adding nine.
But instead of laying down and letting the Lady Hawks have their way, the Lady Rams fought back in game three.
MWHS jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a kill each by Brittany Guill and Sydney Vasquez, and an ace from Erin Burgeson.
IP came back to cut the Lady Rams’ lead to 4-2 before a thunder-spike send down by senior hitter Bethany Allen off a cross-court feed by Burgeson extended the lead to 5-2.
Iowa Park tied the contest, 7-7, after a kill each from Smoak and Hodges, but MWHS came right back. Freshman Sami Hickey set up Maxi Shultz for a kill, and an IP return error gave MWHS an 8-7 advantage.
After an IP point, the Lady Hawks failed to handle a Lady Rams’ serve and returned the ball into the net as the Lady Rams led 9-8.
Iowa Park then kicked it in gear and went on an 11-3 run – thanks in part by three kills from Langen and a kill each by Hodges and Smoak – to take a 19-12 lead.
However, the Lady Rams came back with a spike for a kill by Allen followed by a timely block by Ashley Valdez and an IP return error to cut the Lady Hawks’ lead to 19-15.
Iowa Park then took advantage of a MWHS service error and consecutive return errors to take a 23-15 lead.
A kill by Hodges brought game three to match points, and on the ensuing rally the Lady Rams returned the ball into the net as the Lady Hawks advanced to the second round.
“I think we were swinging aggressively in game three,” Eggleston said. “In every timeout I was telling the girls not to give them easy points and to make them work for points.
“I think we finally started swinging away in game three. I used Bethany (Allen) as an example. She was swinging away the entire match and getting it taken care of.
“She got a handful of kills (team-leading seven) off of swinging (hard). That was what worked in game three as we flipped the switch to play aggressively and not give them any type of freebie points where they could swing right back at us.
“Iowa Park is a consistent team, and they played well. They put the ball down and finished rallies.
“But in game three we showed we can play with them because we were being aggressive.”