It is said familiarity breeds contempt. But on Monday in Melissa’s third meeting this season with district rival Celina - this time for a trip to the Class 4A volleyball regional semifinals - that familiarity bred only a friendly beat-down. With no malice aforethought - and plenty of smiles - the Lady Cards simply dismantled Celina in three sets, 25-16, 25-18, 25-16.
The pressure-packed setting was Frisco Independence High School but Melissa looked right at home in posting its third-straight post-season sweep. The Lady Bobcats (24-23) and Melissa had split their two matches during the regular season.
“You have to give them something they haven’t seen on film,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said of facing a team multiple times in a season. “We found something a little bit new. We did practice the old stuff to be better at it — that old stuff is what you’re 100-percent sure you can do. But once we got in the game and we did the new stuff and it worked they became a lot more comfortable with it.” Some of the “new stuff” involved a change in right-side blocking personnel and introducing a new play-set — neither of which Celina was ready for, DePaolo said.
Next up, the Lady Cards (36-11) face Nevada Community (30-7) at 6 p.m. Friday at Mesquite Poteet High School. This will be Melissa’s first trip to the regional tournament since 2013, and DePaolo’s first-ever as a head coach.
Melissa breezed through Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs with little pushback from North Dallas or Fort Worth Western Hills, respectively. Was DePaolo concerned the Lady Cards might not be sharp for this tougher opponent?
“There’s always a little bit of concern,” he said. “We never overlook anybody. They knew they were going to get to Round 3 but they knew what was here. [Assistant] Coach [Kathy] Barton gave them a quote and they have taken that quote and gone with it. And that is, ‘When you play tonight, don’t win to win tonight. Win to win state.’ So every time we play, we play like we’re winning state.”
“It was crazy,” senior outside hitter Susan Blake said. “Celina and Melissa have always been rivals so I was really looking forward to this game. It meant a lot to beat them in this round too.” As for having an easy time of it before Round 3, Blake added, “It didn’t really affect us. We knew what Celina was. We knew we had to be ready for them.”
Said senior setter Charley Lane, “We talk a lot about playing as a team, playing for each other. But we also say we play really good when everything is on the line. As a team, we want to go to state so bad so each person is going to put everything they have on the floor.”
“I think everything was working well, actually,” senior setter Sophia Davis said of the contest. “I think we really came together as a unit. … Whenever we get momentum we just keep going. We don’t stop.”
All told, the Lady Cards swung for 37 kills, with Caroline Kasson swatting down a team-high 16 and Blake adding 11. Of eight Melissa service aces, Davis’ three led the way, Anna Fortenberry slapped two, and Lane, Blake and Abbey Maldonado hit one each. Maldonado was also in on four of Melissa’s 14 assist blocks while Lane and Fortenberry knocked down three apiece and Blake and Kasson each had a pair. On the set-assist front, Davis collected 20 as Lane popped up 13. Libero Chelsea George led Melissa with 16 of the team’s 61 digs, while Kasson dug up 10, Lane and Fortenberry tallied seven each and Davis added six.
Each set curiously took the same course: Celina up, 2-1; tight contest through mid-set; Melissa gets a run; lights out for the Lady Bobcats.
Set 1 featured a 9-0 Lady Cards run that started just after they’d had gone ahead for the first time, 10-9, on a rocket-shot from Blake. During this push, Davis swatted her three aces, Blake sent a kill that kissed the deep-right corner, Lane landed a decider and Fortenberry and Blake teamed for a combo block. Lady Bobcat coach Ginger Murray’s first timeout here at mid-run had no effect. Down, 24-12, Celina charged back, though, with four-straight points sparked by block, a kill and an ace. That sent DePaolo to timeout and, moments after retaking the court, Kasson shut the door with a kill down the left side.
In Set 2, as in Set 1, there were four early ties. The Lady Cards went up for good, 9-8, on Kasson’s big swing from the back row. After a middle kill from Maldonado, KG Matthews’ right-to-left corner kill had Melissa up, 11-9. Kasson then erupted for three kills, taking a little off the second one to the middle, and lead was 15-11. Out of the ensuing Celina timeout, the Lady Bobcats fate perhaps became clear when a big Fortenberry hit from the back row hit the top of the net – then somehow rolled over and straight down for a kill. Melissa motored on to a 20-13 lead on Lane’s patented no-set flip to the middle and, after three-straight errant hits by Celina, Blake fired a left-to-right kill for a 23-16 advantage. At 24-18, Kasson’s seeing-eye shot to the deep-right corner finished the set.
As Set 3 began, the writing was perhaps on the hay bale rolls. After requisite early ties, the Lady Cards edged out to an 11-5 lead with a 6-0 run off two Kasson kills and Fortenberry’s ace to the back line. But down, 14-8, just when the Lady Bobcats looked done, they made their biggest push of the night - 5-0 - to trail, 14-13. A Blake/Fortenberry combo block followed by two Matthews kills helped get things back on script, 18-14. Feeling the pressure, the Lady Bobcats then suffered three-straight hitting errors, including a dreaded ball-hits-the-floor-while- everyone-watches. Blake’s tip-over kill to the middle and two Kasson kills brought Celina to the brink at 24-16, then Lane and Maldonado provided the clincher — one last combo block.