Midway Ellison ra2

Midway’s Avery Rhodes (left) and Samantha Sanders block the spike attempt of Killeen Ellison’s Shauntia Landrum (4) in the top-ranked Pantherettes’ 3-0 win on Tuesday.

Staff photo— Rod Aydelotte

A group of Midway students in the front row held up signs that spelled out the message, “MHS will win.”

It wasn’t exactly the boldest of predictions.

The state’s top-ranked volleyball team from Midway dispatched visiting Killeen Ellison with ease, winning, 25-12, 25-7, 25-13, on Tuesday at the MHS arena. It was Midway’s 32nd straight win, as the Pantherettes haven’t lost since mid-August.

But for Midway (38-2 overall, 9-0 in District 8-6A), it’s not just about winning right now. It’s more focused on how those wins are assembled. The start of the UIL state playoffs will crest over the horizon in a little more than two weeks, and the Pantherettes want to be playing their best volleyball of the year at that time.

“I think at the start of the second round of district was when we started using what we think will be some prospective lineups for us as we move into the playoffs,” Midway coach Ryan Porter said. “So we’re not just trying to win, we’re trying to work new plays, move new lineups in, that we’re going to need when we run into some of the big boys out of Region I in Dallas.

“I’m really proud of the girls. We also set a ton of individual goals, and we’re making sure we meet all of those.”

Midway’s versatility and depth of talent has proven overwhelming for its district rivals. Ellison probably felt good about its chances at the early stages of the first set, as it trailed just 9-4 after a net serve from the Pantherettes.

But the Pantherettes just keep pounding away, and they won 12 of the next 17 points on some powerful attacks from senior hitters Allye Beth Deaton and Samantha Sanders.

Callie Williams, one of the top-rated setters in the country, racked up 44 assists while teeing it up for those home-run hitters. Yet against the Eagles (18-14, 3-6), Williams was just as adept at calling her own number, as she tagged six kills on sneak-attack dumps over the net when the defense thought she was angling for another set.

“She’s amazing at that,” Porter said. “She’s incredibly tricky, hard to read. On our coaching staff we have two D-I middle (blockers), and they can’t read her. It’s nice to have that kind of person.”

Ellison actually jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the second set, but it wasn’t the precursor to any kind of rally. Midway stepped up its blocking prowess, led by Avery Rhodes, and held the Eagles to just four more points in that set.

The Pantherettes displayed such quick reflexes that they even took advantage of a kick-save en route to a point in the third set. On a long volley, Ellison attempted to punch one into an open spot on the court, but Midway dug the ball out and Williams stuck out her shoe to set up a teammate for a spike. Midway eventually won the point to go up 20-6 in the set.

Porter said it wasn’t the first time his team has turned in a heady play by using its feet.

“It is legal. It has to stay on your side, you can’t kick it over,” the coach said. “But you can play it with your feet. We’re making a highlight reel of them, actually. We’ve had about 20 of them throughout the season where we kept the ball in play, and even our student section started chanting, ‘Soccer Team!’ for Callie after she got it up.”

Deaton, the reigning Super Centex Player of the Year, whacked a match-high 17 kills to go with seven digs. Sanders had 14 kills, nine digs and two aces.

Midway will hit the road for its next two matches, at Belton and Copperas Cove, before closing out the regular season at home against Harker Heights on Oct. 25.

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