ANNA — Melissa’s Lady Cardinals improved to 6-1 on Friday, Oct. 13, with a four-set win at Anna, but not before the Lady Coyotes almost sent the battle to an anything-can-happen fifth set. Melissa closed out the match with a 25-23 Set 4 victory. The Lady Cards rolled through the Sets 1 and 2, 25-17, 25-15, before Anna rallied to take Set 3, 25-17.


“We just had an off night, hitting,” Lady Cards head coach Frank DePaolo said. “And it’s tough to play Anna because they don’t hit traditionally. [Taylor Medrick], their middle hitter, is a very traditional hitter and I thought we did a decent job on her once we adjusted to her. She kept going back to our right side and we adjusted to that on the front row. But the issue we had was, because we were so off on the front-row, hitting-wise, it made every one of those non-traditional hits mean even more.” DePaolo also noted his team’s 18 digging errors as a factor.


“But again,” he said, “it’s a district win, we move to 6-1 and we still control our own destiny.”


Anna head coach said Tomika Crosby her team’s defense is what made a fifth set a real possibility. “Our defense was a lot better than the first time we played them, as far as at the net, blocking, digging up balls, just being a scrappy team. I told the girls that’s what you’re going to have to do if you want to beat Melissa. That was the difference in this game and the last game. … I’m proud of them. They battled.”


Melissa junior Susan Blake knocked home a team-high 20 kills, while sophomore Caroline Kasson slapped 14 and freshman KG Matthews posted five. All told, the Lady Cards registered 48 kills. Of the team’s 13 aces, senior libero Brittany Melcher led with four, and Kasson and junior Charley Lane each tallied three. Melcher also collected a team-high 24 digs followed by Kasson with 17, Blake with 12, junior Sophia Davis with 11 and Lane with nine.


Lane also posted 19 set-assists while Davis collected 18 — together totalling for 37 of the Lady Cards’ 43 total.


Melissa’s assist-block leader was Blake with four, while Fortenberry had two and Kasson, Matthews, senior Aubrey Grantham and freshman Abbey Maldonado each posted one.


Medrick led Anna (2-5) with seven kills as sophomores Lexi Stewart and Rachel Goade claimed seven and six, respectively. Senior libero Micaela Cornelius claimed 14 of the Lady Coyotes’ 47 digs, while Medrick collected 11 and junior Hannah Howell finished with six. Of Anna’s 22 set-assists, junior Bella Boyd totaled 13 and sophomore Haley Thornburg had nine.


In Set 1, after a Medrick kill knotted the score at 5-5, Melissa moved out to a 10-6 lead on the strength of two Blake kills and one by Kasson. Two Matthews kills and another from Kasson had the Lady Cards up, 13-8, before Medrick’s big hit down the line answered for Anna.


The Lady Coyotes showed life when Howell’s back-to-back aces cut the margin to 18-15, but after a crucial, long volley with big digs on both sides of the net, Blake’s block-kill pushed the lead back to four. A cross-court hit from Kasson and a Fortenberry kill boosted Melissa’s advantage to 21-16 before Anna called timeout, down 23-17. After that break, a Lady Coyote error and Lane’s kill ended the set.


Anna owned 4-1 lead in Set 2 after Medrick’s block-kill but the Lady Cards steamed back to a 5-5 tie ushered by Blake’s lob-kill and an ace from Melcher. Melissa moved to a 13-9 lead but Anna rallied with Medrick’s block and a kill to the middle to trail, 15-13. The Lady Coyotes clawed to within 16-15 before Melissa closed it out with a 9-0 run, featuring a back-row kill by Kasson, a Lane ace and a kill-trio from Blake.


In Set 3, Melissa led early, 8-4, and a sweep started to look likely. But Stewart’s block and one from junior Fekyra Wells had Anna to within one, at 8-7, and from there — after two ties — the Lady Coyotes edged to 12-10 lead on two Melissa errors. Kasson’s service ace knotted the score at 13-13 before a tight, cross-court kill from Matthews tied it again at 15. There, Anna made its move, sparked by Howell’s block-kill and a Medrick ace. Though a big hit from Blake caught Medrick flush in the face, drawing the Lady Cards to within 18-16, Anna pushed back. Stewart’s kill at the net had the Lady Coyotes up, 20-16, and her next swing moved the advantage to 22-16. Aubrey Grantham’s deep cross-court hit drew Melissa to within 22-17 before Goade’s cross-shot to a sideline sent the Lady Cards to timeout. Another big slap from Stewart soon secured the Lady Coyotes’ win.


In Set 4’s climactic final moments, Anna saw its last lead slip away when Fortenberry’s kill tied the score at 22-22. Two Lady Coyote hitting errors followed to push Anna to the brink and, after a Melissa ball to the net, Kasson’s kill off a defender’s hand ended the match. Anna began the set with a 4-0 lead and later led, 16-12.


While Melissa has its sights on a district title, the Lady Coyotes have post-season dreams as well. “One of our goals is to make it to the playoffs,” Crosby said. “But to get there we’ve got to take one game at a time. We can’t look ahead and lose focus of where we are right now. We’ve hoping that’s where we end up.” Four of six district teams advance to the playoffs, and Anna currently holds fourth place with three regular-season matches left.


Melissa has the opportunity to clinch the District 11-4A championship by winning its next two matches — at home versus Aubrey and at Celina.