MELISSA - For three sets on Aug. 28, before a fervent home crowd at Melissa Middle School, the state-ranked Lady Cardinals and Argyle battled mightily in a highly anticipated non-district showdown. Then, with a 2-1 edge after that trio of tense affairs, the Lady Eagles cruised to a solid Set 4 win to claim the match.
Argyle’s hard-fought line read, 25-20, 24-26, 25-21, 25-17.
“We lost tonight in four, but it was a great match,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “We just made errors and they didn’t. They do such a great job. I keep stats on both teams in my journal, and I’m sure I miss some here and there, but I had them with seven hitting errors in four sets. I had us with 30 hitting errors. To me, that was the difference in the match. … We had one ace all night,” he added. “They were a dang-good serve-receive team.
“When they were under a little bit of stress, they started cut-shotting the ball. The outside hitters would just go up and really hard-cut it and put a bunch of spin on it. So it got us out of defensive position. … They were a tough team but we had an opportunity.”
Argyle head coach Megan DeGroot said the difference may have been her team’s reaction to something. “I think they saw how upset I was. We weren’t playing very disciplined. We were trying some new things. We didn’t have one of our starting middles tonight. … I think after they kind of got over the fear of trying something new and just played and were disciplined and crisp, they gelled much better.
“We have a very good offense. Tonight, I would say our outsides and our setters were not connecting at all, which was frustrating but we worked through it. … I knew [Melissa] had strong outsides. Definitely last year [in our five-set win] we struggled with their deep-corner, hard-driven shots. And I knew they were going to have that again this year.”
The Lady Eagles (15-11) entered the contest ranked No. 10 in Class 4A state polling by the American Volleyball Coaches Association and Melissa (12-7) was 14th.
Caroline Kasson led the Lady Cards with 20 kills as Susan Blake pumped across 15 and Charley Lane added eight. Kasson also posted a team-high 19 of Melissa’s 80 digs while libero Ella Branson logged 16. Rounding out Lady Card double-digit diggers were Sophia Davis with 12, Blake with 11 and Anna Fortenberry with 10.
Kasson collected two of Melissa’s three solo blocks as well and Abbey Maldonado beat back the other. Davis recorded a team-high 29 set assists and Lane recorded 21. Branson was tops in passing with a 2.55 rating.
So after this test, where are the Lady Cards? “I really feel like we’re ready to get into district,” DePaolo said, “even though it’s still a month away. I really feel like we’re ready to get there.”
In that decisive fourth set, the teams waded through three ties on the way to 8-8. Kasson ripped five kills during this stretch, with Blake and Lane adding a kill apiece and Branson nailing Melissa’s lone service ace. From there, Argyle moved out to a 15-11 lead as the Lady Cards posted four hitting errors that offset two Blake kills. This sent DePaolo to a timeout - maybe a bit late, he said. “That late in the match, I probably should have stopped it [sooner]. I had two timeouts left and I probably should have taken one.”
Out of that break, Maldonado got up for a kill from the middle but the Lady Eagles pushed on to a 20-13 advantage on three kills and a block. In the late going, Melissa matched Argyle nearly point-for-point but it wasn’t enough. Matthews’ outside kill at the net was the Lady Cards’ final point at 24-17.
In Set 1, the Lady Eagles opened with a 9-4 lead. After a timeout, Melissa fought back to trail, 13-11, sparked by three-straight Blake kills. Kasson’s left-side kill to the middle kept the Lady Cards close at 16-13 and - after a deep right-side kill from Lane made it 18-14 - back-to-back Kasson kills sent Argyle to timeout with a tenuous 2-point lead. When played resumed, Kasson’s tip-over kill drew Melissa to within 18-17 but the Lady Cards would get no closer. Argyle cruised, 7-3, the rest of the way with a slapped kill from the left to close it out. Fortenberry’s kill from the middle was Melissa’s last offensive point in Set 1.
The Lady Cards rallied to win Set 2, surviving a late 24-all deadlock. The set featured five ties early on and Melissa soon found its first breathing room of the match at 13-8 on Maldonado’s solo block. Kills from Kasson, Maldonado and KG Matthews kept the Lady Cards ahead at 18-13 but three consecutive Argyle points sent Melissa to a timeout. The Lady Cards surged again to lead, 22-18, but three-straight hitting errors put their margin in jeopardy. Blake’s kill from the right ended the slide for a 23-21 Melissa advantage and Kasson’s big swing pushed the Lady Eagles to the brink. Things got dicey once more for the Lady Cards as Argyle tied it at 24-24 on a kill and two Melissa hitting errors. Up again by 1 after the Lady Eagles’ ensuing errant serve, Kasson’s big swat from the left ended the set as Melissa’s faithful roared.
After Davis kicked off Set 3 with a kill from right, the teams scrapped through early ties again — this time 11 of them — enroute to 13-13. From there, Melissa would not lead again and trailed by as much as four points. Back-to-back kills by Blake and Kasson brought the Lady Cards to within 22-20 but Argyle took three of the last four points for the win.