WEST — When they smelled blood in the water, the Lorena Lady Leopards swooped in for the kill.
Of course, it helps when you have stone-cold killers like Blaze Runyan and Abbie Tuyo.
That pair of machine gunners helped 16th-ranked Lorena shoot past Alvarado, 25-12, 25-14, 25-9, in Class 4A bi-district volleyball play on Monday night at the West High School. Lorena (32-11) advances to face the winner of Tuesday’s Huntington-Madisonville matchup in the area playoff round.
Lorena prides itself on sprawling out on the floor, in order to levitate the ball off the floor and extend volleys. It did that superbly throughout the win over Alvarado (15-26), before hitters like Runyan (13 kills) and Tuyo (9 kills) soared in for the finisher.
“Our outside hitters did a great job tonight,” Lorena coach Kari Sowders said. “Blaze really came alive and did a great job for us, especially there at the end.”
Of course, rally-saving digs and point-finishing spikes aren’t necessary when you’re scoring points with sizzling serves. Lorena kept the pressure on the Lady Indians throughout the match with some heavy-topspin service, producing 11 aces. Runyan pocketed four aces, Meg Kucera, Haley Flores and Leigh Jespersen added two apiece, and Ava Sanders picked up one.
“Tonight our key was that our serve was really tough, they had a hard time with our serve tonight,” Sowders said. “And they didn’t really ever get to put anything together.”
A clear sign that everything was going Lorena’s way: Late in the second set, Runyan tagged a low line-drive serve that flew into the top of the net before trickling over for a defense-befuddling ace. The Alvarado defenders resembled a big-league batter flailing at a Gerrit Cole changeup.
Jespersen, a freshman middle blocker, made her presence known at the net, both in finishing off points and with her blocking. And she never stopped smiling as she played.
“Leigh’s going to be great,” Sowders said. “She’s really good right now. She’s a freshman, she works hard and does a good job for us. I’m glad we’ve been able to get her the ball a lot more.”
And as for her ever-present giggly grin? “Oh, yeah, she’s definitely a freshman who’s a goofball,” the coach said.
In the third set, Lorena ensured that the Indians wouldn’t mount a comeback or extend to a fourth set by crushing their spirit early. The Lady Leopards served first in the set and scored the first nine points with Runyan at the line, and Alvarado never recovered.
Sowders said that Lorena’s area-round match would be Thursday at a time to be announced. She said that if the opponent were Madisonville, the match would be in Cameron, while if it were Huntington, she planned to talk with Madisonville administrators about using its gym as the area-round site.
China Spring 3, Waxahachie Life 0
WEST – You can have the nicest gym or the sweetest sneakers in the county, but even more valuable than either is playoff experience.
China Spring made a memorable run to the regional tournament last year by grinding out gritty wins. Several players instrumental in navigating that journey are back, including four seniors. Their know-how made a difference as the Lady Cougars dispatched a feisty Waxahachie Life team, 25-21, 25-14, 25-21, in Class 4A bi-district playoff competition at West High School.
China Spring (27-14) advances to the area playoffs later this week, where it will face Fairfield.
Even in Tuesday’s sweep, the Lady Cougars had to dig deep – metaphorically and literally. Several points, especially at the end, might’ve needed a shot clock because they lasted so long.
“It was (hard-fought). I knew watching film on them that they were going to be tough,” China Spring coach Melissa Cole said. “They have quite a few lefties, so that makes a little bit of a difference. But having kids who have made that playoff run already and knowing what it takes to win, how to do that, I think that helps a lot.”
Indeed, senior leaders like Alaina Wilson and Jenna Kuligowski always seemed to be in the right place at the right time for China Spring as the points progressed.
The Lady Mustangs, fueled by southpaw senior Lauren Allen, didn’t go down without a fight. In the third set, China Spring built a 20-12 lead as it looked to deliver the knockout blow in the sweep. But Life rallied and ended up fighting off four separate match points before Wilson closed things out with a spike down the middle.
At one point during Life’s run, Cole called timeout and just told her team to keep playing China Spring volleyball.
“Just to keep fighting, keep fighting,” Cole said. “Those are something you can’t take away. I like those rallies. It makes us better in the end for them. I want to come out on the other end of it, those long rallies, but we just have to keep fighting. We have rallies like that in practice all the time. Just constantly competing. Keep fighting.”
Back-row players like Kuligowski and Nikki Pirrello looked like Olympic-level divers on some of those points, sprawling out for the save.
“Our defensive girls, they want to get after it,” Cole said. “They’re willing to sacrifice their bodies for it. They’ll do it, and that’s what I love about them.”
China Spring also got a strong effort from sophomore Dylan Birkes, who tallied seven kills. Another sophomore, Kaitlyn Scott, had a run of three straight aces early in the third set.