CARROLLTON — Melissa defeated Class 4A opponents Kennedale and Decatur at the one-day ASC/Nike Power Pool volleyball event at the cavernous — and loud — Advantage Sports Complex in Carrollton on Thursday, Aug. 10. This pool play-only competition featured teams from across the state playing two best-of-three matches each with no championships awarded. Perhaps 15 or more matches were simultaneously in progress at all times across the enormous venue.

Participating teams were generally getting in extra tournament-style play before for the start of the ASC/Nike tournament the next day at this site and at Denton Ryan High School.

The Lady Cardinals first bested Kennedale's Lady Wildcats, 25-13, 23-25, 25-21, to move their record to 3-0 on the young season. In the decisive third set, Melissa rallied from 13-18 down for a 12-3 run — with just one error — for the win. 

“That was really our key,” Lady Cards head coach Frank DePaolo said. “We started playing better defense, and we were making smarter hits. … We had a lead in the second set, 23-20, and let it go — because we're young. … We're very talented but we're very young.”

Sophomore Ella Branson and freshman Abbey Maldonado had important minutes in that third set and performed well. For the match, sophomore Caroline Kasson led Melissa with 15 kills and junior setter Charley Lane slammed down eight. Senior libero Brittany Melcher came up with a team-high 19 digs, followed by 16 from Kasson and 10 from Branson. Branson also led the Lady Cards with five service aces while Melcher tallied four.

“Our key all summer and during two-a-days has been grit,” DePaolo said. “We're going to have to play with grit. We're going to have to overcome adversity if we're going to be successful. We're not going to overpower anybody. … And I attribute that third-set comeback to freshmen and newcomers forgetting that they're freshmen and newcomers and then playing volleyball. It's the reason they're on the team to begin with. Brittany Melcher also did a really good job of taking that young group and leading them in our huddles, and really carrying them through that set.”

Lane dinked multiple balls to vacant spots in the defense throughout the match. “Our back-row players are responsible for telling the hitters where the holes are,” DePaolo said, “but our hitters have got to go ahead and be successful in doing it.” He noted that Davis was also good at dumping the ball into Zone 4 — behind the outside hitter — a place most defenders don't expect.

Melissa romped out to an 8-2 lead in Set 1 and kept the Class 4A Lady Wildcats on their heels throughout. Melcher's back-to-back aces highlighted the early push followed by kills from Kasson and Anna Fortenberry on the way to 12-6. A Grace Whittington kill and Kasson's block made it 17-9 as Kennedale struggled to hang in. Consecutive service aces from Lane helped close the door late.

In Set 2, Kennedale charged to a 5-1 lead but Lady Wildcat errors helped allow Melissa to creep back in it at 8-7. Kennedale accordioned back to a 12-7 lead only to be tied, 12-12, moments later. Five more ties would follow before the Lady Wildcats eked out the 2-point decision. During that final stretch, Kasson slapped a wicked cross-court kill to give the Lady Cards a 15-14 lead and her block tied things at 18-18. Lane's deft tip to an open spot followed to give Melissa a 19-18 advantage.

A Maldonado kill put Lady Cards up, 2-0, in Set 3 but Kennedale charged back for an 8-2 lead. The margin was 19-13 when Melissa made its move. With Branson serving, the Lady Cards put up six straight points to tie, including two Branson aces and a Kasson kill to cap it off. Another kill — and a block — by Kasson and a Melcher ace sent the Lady Wildcats to a timeout trailing, 22-20.

A nice Branson dig allowed for another Kasson kill and a 24-20 Lady Cards lead. Then with Melissa up 24-21, a Lady Wildcat in the net ended the match.

What did learn DePaolo learn about his team after this comeback — in this environment? “We had a middle graduate last year and a starting right-side [hitter] graduate. So I had two solid middles coming back, then both of them got injured. It's kind of that next-man-up mentality, just like it is in football. And that's what we did today.”

“We had a middle graduate last year and a starting right-side [hitter] graduate. So I had two solid middles coming back, then both of them got injured. It's kind of that next-man-up mentality, just like it is in football. And that's what we did today.”

In their second Power Pool match, Melissa rallied to defeat a taller Decatur squad, 2 sets to 1, after being thumped, 25-9, in the opener. “A lot of teams are going to come back and just go, 'Oh, this is over. This is done,'” Lady Cards head coach Frank DePaolo said. But Melissa came back to take a 25-20 victory in the second set, then sent the Lady Eagles packing, 25-10, in the finale.

In that one, the Lady Cards seemingly could not hit the ball out of bounds. “And [Decatur] couldn't get a hit,” DePaolo said. “We dug so well. Then they started to try to hit harder which put it out or in the net.”

“I think defense, especially now in rally scoring, is underrated,” he said, “because it's all about offense.” (Rally scoring is when a point is scored every play, regardless of which team is serving.) “Even myself, I'm never going to sacrifice offense for a little bit of extra defense. But when you have good defenders behind that offense and they can frustrate the [opponents'] hitters, it makes a difference.”

Kasson led Melissa (4-0) with 15 kills and junior Lane belted six. Davis collected a team-high 21 set assists and Lane added 10. Branson served up three aces, tops for the Lady Cards, and Davis added two. Senior Grace Whittington put up three blocks.

Decatur is coached by Clark Oberle who left Argyle this year after building that program into one of the premier teams in the state. Oberle's Argyle squad defeated Melissa last year in a regional-quarterfinal playoff matchup and went on to the state finals.