Melissa’s Lady Cardinals breezed to five-straight wins at the third annual Denison Invitational volleyball tournament, Aug. 16-18, before falling to Class 4A Krum in the finals, 2 sets to 1, on Saturday. Melissa took the first set, 25-15, but the Lady Cats rallied, 25-19, 25-25, to claim the title. “We made way too many errors in the second and the third set,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said.

“It was a really disappointing loss for us.”

The Lady Cards’ overall record now stands at 11-6, with district play starting Sept. 21.

Caroline Kasson led Melissa with 17 kills versus Krum while Susan Blake posted 10. Freshman libero Chelsea George collected a team-high 17 digs and also scored the team’s top passer rating: 2.38.

Kasson added 16 digs and defensive specialist Ella Branson and Sophia Davis each tallied seven. Davis’ 14 assists led the team as Charley Lane put up 13. Davis also fired four service aces and Kasson posted three. Abbey Maldonado and Blake registered one solo block each.

Melissa 2, Aubrey 0

In the semifinals on Saturday, Melissa downed Class 4A Aubrey, 25-23, 25-13, with extended service runs in each set playing huge roles. Kasson put up a team-high 17 kills and Lane was next at six. George led the Lady Cards with four aces and her 12 digs were also tops, with Kasson adding 10. Davis led in assists with 14 and Lane tallied seven. Branson passed at a team-high 2.57 rate and Maldonado collected a solo block.

Melissa got off to a rough start in Set 1, falling behind, 11-6, after seven hitting errors — a situation that drew a timeout from DePaolo.

“I told them to stop trying to be cute,” he said. “It was Aubrey, a district opponent, and they wanted to, I guess, be more than we are right now. … I told them, ‘Just do what we did to get here.’ More than anything, it was just a slow start. We made some adjustments to our defense.” He added that from then on they kept the ball away more from Aubrey’s big-hitting Kaia Saylor. “When Kaia gets hold of a ball,” DePaolo said, “it’s 50-50 whether we’re even going to get a touch on it.”

Out of that timeout, the Lady Cards cut the lead to 13-9. That’s when Davis stepped in and served a momentum-flipping 11-0 Melissa run. Four kills by Lane – two from the right, two from the middle — highlighted the push along with Blake’s two kills and a tip-over kill by Maldonado.

“That run right there was amazing,” DePaolo said.

Melissa built its advantage to 22-14 before the Lady Chaps recovered with a run of their own, albeit 6-0. Now holding a 22-20 edge, Kasson and Davis got up for a combo block-kill to end Aubrey’s rally. But the Lady Chaps weren’t done. After a Melissa hitting error, Aubrey landed a kill to the middle and trailed, 23-22. Each side then put a ball in the net, but Kasson would provide the set-winner — a kill shot from the right side.

In Set 2, Kasson broke a 4-4 tie with a kill from the left then came back with another — off Lane’s set — for an 8-5 Melissa lead. After an Anna Fortenberry service ace, KG Matthews’ kill from the right sent Aubrey to timeout, down 12-7. Out of the break, the Lady Chaps rallied for two kills but Matthews fired back with one of her own and Melissa led, 13-9. Soon after, George started her 9-0 service run, a push that left Aubrey deflated at 23-11. Along the way, George posted two aces and Kasson slapped two more kills. Up, 23-13, back-to-back Kasson kills ended the match. Of George’s run, DePaolo said,

“Her left hand, it looks weird when her serve comes off. She is able to put the ball at some angles that the kids aren’t used to seeing.”

“Their [outside hitters] are great players,” Aubrey head coach Whitney Stout said. “You can tell that they have a lot of experience playing. I think they look to their outsides a lot. We weren’t able to shut them down in the second game. I think in the first game, they had some errors and we also, I think, did a better job of adjusting to them.”

Melissa 2, Bells 0

In Saturday’s 9 a.m. quarterfinal match, the Lady Cards strummed 3A Bells, 25-14, 25-13. “We had nine hitting errors in the first set,” DePaolo said, “but we narrowed that down to just three in the second set. I hate 9 o’clock matches. The only thing worse than a 9 o’clock match is an 8 o’clock match. … It’s just really tough to get motivated this early. Both sides were shaky at the beginning. Still, we had our dominant outside hitting - but our middle and our right-side attack is coming along. … Our defense, that’s really what kind of saved us at the beginning of both sets. There were quite a few balls that we got up that saved us from easy points.”

“We couldn’t anticipate where they were going to set the ball,” Bells head coach Lisa Johnson said. “They did a great job of switching, transitioning well, and I think that’s what kind of kept us on our toes.”

Kasson slammed home 10 kills, tops for Melissa. Blake tallied six kills with four aces and Fortenberry added three kills. Lane put up a team-high 13 assists and Davis added eight. George collected 16 digs as Blake and Kasson dug up eight and seven, respectively. George was also Melissa’s leading passer, posting a 2.5 rating.

Even with early hitting errors, the Lady Cards built 16-9 lead in Set 1, sparked in part by single kills from Lane and Blake, and a Maldonado block. Blake’s next kill — from the middle off a short set by Lane — boosted the lead to 17-10. From there, Bells never threatened. With Melissa up, 21-14, four straight Lady Panthers hitting errors ended the set.

It was more of the same in Set 2 as the Lady Cards built a 9-5 lead, aided by two Matthews kills. Bells would rally this time, though, cutting the deficit to 10-9 off a kill and two Melissa hitting errors. But kills by Maldonado, Lane and Kasson helped put the Lady Panthers’ hopes to bed – setting the stage for Blake’s smoking ace off a defender’s hand that put the Lady Cards in charge again, 17-9.

George’s highlight-reel, diving save that cleared the net put Melissa up, 23-12, before Fortenberry’s tip-kill from the middle brought the Lady Cards to match point. From there, a Bells hitting error closed it out.

Pool play

In pool play on Thursday, Melissa made short order of three Class 3A opponents: Leonard, 25-10, 25-17, in the opener, then Pilot Point, 25-16, 25-12, and Van Alstyne, 25-14, 25-11. “We were lucky in the fact that we finished our matches in two [sets] and our second and third opponents had to go three,” DePaolo said. “So they weren’t as rested and I think we took advantage of that early. We jumped out to some big leads on them. Then, on defense, we were able to turn their really good hits and good passes into kills.”

Over these three contests, Blake led the Lady Cards with 20 kills and she logged two aces and six digs. Kasson collected 18 kills with 16 digs and two aces, while Lane swatted nine aces with 20 assists and seven digs. Davis tallied a team-high 25 assists with eight digs and George dug up 24 balls, tops for Melissa, and she passed for a 2.4 rating. Fortenberry stroked seven kills from the middle and posted three blocks. Branson registered 10 digs and passed for a team-high 2.6 rating.