Lady Cats block, rock East for sweep, fourth straight win
An opening-set win was all the Plano Senior volleyball team needed to jar the wheels loose for visiting rival Plano East Tuesday night.
What began with the night's most nip-and-tuck frame gave way to two sets that saw the Lady Wildcats and Lady Panthers go opposite ways, with Plano getting the upper hand in a sweep (25-20, 25-17, 25-15) and remaining tied for first place in District 8-5A.
"We played a great game tonight," said Jennifer Cron, Plano head coach. "We had some amazing blocks and the girls kept coming. They were really fired up as we should have been. East is a rival and we know every team we face is a good team.
"It's fun to see that we're a good team as well."
Plano outlasted East in the opening set, easily the most competitive of the three.
A frame that consisted of 10 ties and four lead changes, Plano seized control midway through after an attempted dig by junior Alicia Hinojos bounced back over to East's side and into the clear for a 15-14 Plano lead. The Lady Panthers reclaimed an 18-15 advantage behind three kills in four points, but an East service error drew the count even at 19-19 and Plano senior Alexa Novoa bolted one of her set-high three kills to take a lead the Lady Wildcats wouldn't relinquish. Novoa led Plano in kills during all three sets, totaling 13 on the night.
Plano closed the set out on a 6-1 run, with an East service error ending it.
The Lady Panthers never recovered.
"I think we just had some trouble playing from behind," said Steven Jones, East head coach. "I think they felt like they'd get off to a good start and bring that energy, and I think they were more surprised that they were having to play from behind at the start.
"Plus, Plano played really well tonight."
The Lady Wildcats established respective leads of 6-1 and 10-1 in the last two sets.
In the case of the second game, the Lady Panthers clawed to within one point at 14-13. East gave itself a late jolt in forcing a slew of Plano attack errors coupled with the attack of junior Kayla Burling, who led the team on the night with seven kills. In stepped junior Madi Morell to answer East's mid-set rally with a run of her own. The Lady Wildcats' middle blocker accounted for three of her five kills in the second set while also having a hand in three blocks.
"Madi has been a strong player for us all season," Cron said. "It's fun to see other people notice as well. She's a strong middle and while she isn't necessarily the tallest out there, she holds her own against anybody."
Plano's blocking front of Morell, sophomore Aubrey Davis and junior Ally Birkett, terrorized the Lady Panthers all night long, accruing 11 blocks to East's four. Five of Plano's blocks came in the second set, helping balloon a 14-13 lead into a 23-14 advantage before senior Ashley McDowell knocked down the set-winning kill.
Plano only built on its momentum in the final set, leading by as many as 15-4.
Opening the set with three Novoa kills, Plano didn't look back, despite the Lady Panthers' putting forth their strongest offensive set of the match with 10 kills.
East sophomore McKenzie Shea accounted for three of those kills, but it was too late as Plano rode out its fourth straight victory and a 5-1 record in District 8-5A; good for a first-place tie with Hebron.
"It's all about their hard work," Cron said. "They put in the work during the summer and we've had some injuries along the way, but it's helped us build depth. We've got a strong team, everyone out there is playing solid and that has really helped us."
The Lady Wildcats wrap up the first leg of district play with a 7 p.m. Friday road tilt against Plano West.
East, meanwhile, dropped its third consecutive match. The Lady Panthers are 2-4 entering Friday's 7 p.m. home match against Lewisville.
"We're going to start fresh, come in and start a whole new season," Jones said. "We've got to have new expectations going forward. We've got to come together as a team and move forward because these last three losses are unacceptable."