SAN MARCOS — An imperfect season? Hardly.
No. 1-ranked Midway scripted the most perfect of endings to its storybook season by blasting Friendswood, 25-21, 25-22, 25-21, to win the Class 4A state volleyball championship here Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 4,100 at Texas State's Strahan Coliseum.
It's the first state title in volleyball for the Pantherettes (47-1), who reveled in the victory afterward, first clinging together in a massive team bear hug and later sprinting over to their fervent, face-painting fans to allow them to share in the celebration.
"This is amazing," said middle blocker Laura Simon, one of six Midway seniors who lost in the state semifinals last year. "Especially your senior year. To go out with a state win as a senior, not many people can say they did that."
Midway's only speed bump on its road to the state championship was a four-game loss to Vista Ridge in a playoff warm-up match. But even if it cost them a chance at a perfect season, the Pantherettes were grateful for that blemish.
"That was probably the best thing that could have happened to us," Simon said. "That was a wake-up call."
"We were headed toward cockiness instead of confidence," added senior setter Kelsey O'Neill. "That (loss) smacked us and totally got our attitude back in gear."
Against Friendswood (38-7), Midway seemed to find a whole other gear, especially late in games. The Lady Mustangs reached the 20-point mark in each of the first two games before getting flattened by Midway's unstoppable train of momentum.
The Pantherettes often proved impenetrable at the net, tallying 10 total team blocks to Friendswood's four. The front line of Simon, Ale'tra Ware and Megan Mader repeatedly rejected the Lady Mustangs' spikes.
"It's nice to get lucky on some of those, and I got lucky," said Simon, who led Midway with five solo blocks and one assist. "I'll take it, though."
Midway's marriage of dynamic defense and efficient offense was personified in a barrage of Rice — Jordan Rice, to be exact. The senior outside hitter laid out for 11 digs and hammered 13 kills to earn the championship game MVP honor.
"Jordan played amazingly," Midway coach Janet Angell said. "That's the way she played at the few tournaments we had earlier in the year, and then she kind of leveled out. But we've been seeing her coming on. Coach (Ryan) Porter, Coach (Janet) Thomas and I were saying earlier today that if Jordan could have a breakout game defensively and offensively, that would just complement Laura and Ale'tra and Megan so well."
Midway bounced out to a quick 11-5 lead in Game 3 thanks to a couple of southpaw smacks from Mader, but Friendswood refused to submit. Behind the hard hitting of Jessie Hays, who had a team-high 11 kills, the Lady Mustangs scratched back to within 23-21 late in the match.
But Friendswood was whistled for a lift on the next point and then sailed a return long of the back line, and the crown belonged to Midway.
"That was probably the best defensive effort we've played against," Friendswood coach Jerry Linch said. "We knew coming into the match that (Midway) had great ball control and great defense, and we didn't seem to win the long rallies."
Junior libero Lauren Ray topped Midway's defensive effort with 14 digs to go along with her three service aces. O'Neill scooped up 11 digs and dished out 30 assists, while Simon and Mader bashed nine kills apiece.
All the stats added up to one final winning result — a state title.
"It's been a long season, but it's been worth it," Angell said. "I've probably gotten a lot more gray hairs along the way. But this feels pretty good."