MELISSA — At the Bird Cage on Tuesday, Oct. 10, Melissa’s Lady Cardinals thumped Princeton in straight sets to maintain their perch atop District 11-4A — now with just Celina — with four regular-season matches left. Melissa (5-1) defeated the pesky Lady Panthers, 25-16, 25-21, 25-22, looking now to finish strong.

“We own our own destiny,” Lady Cards head coach Frank DePaolo said. “If we can take care of business and end up 9-1 we’ll win the district.”

“I thought our girls played very well tonight,” Princeton head coach Maurice Lock said. “I thought, with our youth, for them to be able to scrap as good as they did tonight — Melissa’s a good team, they’ve got a lot of good players. I’m pleased with how our girls played. They competed today. At the end of the day, that’s what you want your kids to do.”

Sophomore Caroline Kasson logged 11 of Melissa’s 31 kills, followed by junior Susan Blake with nine, junior Charley Lane with five and senior Aubrey Grantham with four. The Lady Cards spread six aces during the match with Blake and junior Sophia Davis registering two each. “We served tough and it put [Princeton] in tough situations,” DePaolo noted.

Melissa achieved their goal of a 2.0 passing rating this night, with senior libero Brittany Melcher shining at 2.44. “That’s her best passing night of the year,” DePaolo said.

Of the Lady Cards’ 29 setting assists, junior Sophia Davis collected 18 and Lane had nine. Melcher tallied 21 of Melissa’s 65 digs, with Kasson and Blake posting 16 and 10, respectively. “I thought we touched a lot of blocks tonight,” DePaolo said. “We didn’t have a lot of stuffs but we touched enough to slow it down. Tonight, we only had eight digging errors. There are times when we’ll have eight or ten in a set. Our block did just enough tonight to either force the ball to our hitters to make good digs or we slowed it down enough to where we could dig it.”

Melissa’s attack also featured a match-long flurry of back-setting — sending the ball to a hitter behind the setter. “We’ve been working quite a bit on that,” DePaolo said, “and our goal is to basically have four options every time we set the ball.”

DePaolo noted, though, that his team’s hitting percentage this night was only .122, with 19 errors. “That’s something that we definitely have been working on the last couple of days and need to fix,” he said.

Set 1 featured a near 15-minute delay while referees sorted out a Princeton rotation infraction with the Lady Panthers up, 12-8. The violation occurred three points earlier but Melissa’s scorekeeper had been unable to get the refs to stop play. Finally, DePaolo sent team captain Melcher to speak with the head referee and the situation was ultimately rectified with a new score of 9-8, Princeton.

The Lady Cards soon tied it at 11-11 then took their first lead when Davis fired a service ace off a defender’s body. Another Davis ace and a cross-court kill from Kasson sent Melissa’s advantage to 14-11 before three-straight Lady Panther hitting errors boosted the margin to 18-12. After a Princeton timeout, the Lady Cards surged on with a lob-ace from Kasson and kills from Blake and Lane to lead, 22-13. Blake soon popped another kill and Kasson closed it out with a tip-over the Lady Panthers couldn’t handle.

In Set 2, Princeton broke on top, 3-0, but four ties ensued en route to 6-6. Grantham’s kill gave Melissa a 7-6 edge and a spark as the Lady Cards posted a 5-0 run, capped by Lane’s well-placed deep lob. Two Kasson kills helped lift the lead to 17-9 but Princeton didn’t go away. With the aid of Melissa errors, the Lady Panthers crafted a 9-0 run to lead, 20-18, sending DePaolo to a timeout.

The Lady Cards’ comeback started with a Blake kill, followed by two Princeton balls to the net that knotted the score at 21-all. From there, a Kasson kill and Blake’s ace-to-the-face had Melissa in charge, 24-21. The set ended on another Lady Panther hitting error.

Set 3 saw the Lady Cards get separation at 10-6 on four successive plays: a kill from freshman Abbey Maldonado, Kasson’s kill to the middle, a lob-kill from Grantham and a Maldonado-Grantham combo-block. Melissa led 15-10 after a Lane kill and 16-11 off Blake’s kill on a quick-set from Davis. A Blake service ace and Kasson’s deep-corner kill highlighted the Lady Cards’ move to 20-15.

Down late, the Lady Panthers had one more push in them, closing to within 23-22 with a 4-0 run. But another Blake kill and a big swing from freshman KG Matthews quickly ended the match.