ALEDO – For the third time in three years the Graford Lady Rabbits are area champions after a 3-1 win over the Avalon Lady Eagles in a UIL 1A-Region 2 playoff match at Aledo High School on Thursday.
Other than the second set when they fell behind 6-11 to start, ultimately falling 22-25, the Lady Rabbits were in full control of their area match with wins in the first, third and fourth sets by scores of 25-10, 25-22 and 25-16.
“We came out playing really good and they came out kind of flat,” said Graford head coach Derek Wuthrich. “We took our foot off the gas peddle there in the second set, but it feels great. Back-to-back-to-back area champions with these ladies and it's never easy at this point, but we settled down and finished really strong.”
In the first set, the Lady Rabbits opened with a 6-0 run, eventually leading by 14 at one point thanks to great plays from seniors Taylor Penn and Sunni Lemley and sophomore Sophia Hincapie.
The underclassman Hincapie and Lemley each had multiple kills in the first set. Penn also picked up multiple kills, an ace and scored a point on a stellar headfirst dive and dig to force an Avalon error. Elsewhere, Graford sophomore Bryce Hurst and freshman Kristen Glover recorded kills, and senior Rebecca Richardson sealed the first set with an ace.
After playing the Lady Eagles even to start the second, 5-5, the Lady Rabbits committed half a dozen unforced errors. The misplays led to a 6-1 Avalon run, and the Lady Rabbits never recovered losing the set 22-25.
“We were being timid and settling for pushing the ball over when we could've attacked,” Wuthrich said. “But we got it together and started being aggressive. Taylor Penn in that last set stepped up, and Sunni Lemley's serving in the third set helped us go on a run as well.”
Along with Lemley's serving in the third, Penn continued to pile up the kills thanks to assist after assist from the senior Richardson. For the match Lemley had a team-high eight aces, and Penn led the way with 13 kills, 18.5 total points a .324 hitting percentage.
Another senior, outside hitter Lacie Bell came alive late in the third set with a pair of kills to give the Lady Rabbits a three point lead. Hincapie stayed strong as well in the third and fourth sets with multiple kills in each. The sophomore finished the match with 10 kills and two blocks, including a perfectly-timed stuff to seal the fifth set and the match.
“[Sofia] wasn't afraid to get up there at the net,” said Wuthrich. “She was very aggressive, didn't hesitate at all and was one of the girls who stayed pretty calm throughout. She played big for us today.”
Up next, the area champion Graford Lady Rabbits will try and advance past the regional quarterfinals for the first time as they take on the District 10 champion Tioga Lady Bulldogs. The two teams will play Monday, Nov. 6, at a time and location TBD.
“For us, the focus is going to be on playing well,” Wuthrich said about next week's regional quarterfinal. “They're going to be a good team, but if we can play like we're capable of playing we can win it or at least give them a run for their money.”