MELISSA - Melissa’s Lady Cardinals notched a four-set win over Anna on Friday in the district-opener for both teams - but not before the Lady Coyotes showed some mid-match grit. Sets 1 and 4 went decisively to Melissa (25-9), but Sets 2 and 3 proved to be spirited struggles with Anna claiming a third-set win. In the end, though, it was the Lady Cards’ big swings and solid back-row play that prevailed to the tune of 25-13, 25-22, 19-25, 25-15.

“I guess it goes without saying that Anna played a great match tonight,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “They had a great game plan for us and we didn’t adjust very well. Part of that is my fault. I tried some adjustments in Set 2 … and there were some adjustments that we took a long time to try. When we finally started to work on them I think we got them a little frustrated in Set 4 and we were able to start getting into a rhythm.

DePaolo added that Anna head coach Tomika Crosby switched defenses at least twice. “That was really good on her part,” he said. “They pretty much took away the deep area where we usually live and forced us to hit the spots that we weren’t used to.”

Said Crosby, “I told the girls that I’m proud they did what I asked them to do. I told them we’re going to have to be a very defensive team. We’re going to have to dig up everything and we need to get touches on the ball. … I learned that they can be a scrappy team when they want to be. I’m just looking forward to seeing what they’ll do each night in district. I just want them to show up and play as hard as they can and be that scrappy team – and who knows what we’ll do?”

Crosby added that the Lady Coyotes (13-9) were “off” in Set 1 and that, overall, hitting errors and missed serves hurt the team’s chances.

A look at stats

Of Melissa’s 43 kills, Caroline Kasson led with a game-high 16 and Susan Blake swatted back 14. “Normally, we have one or two other people with close to 10 and we didn’t tonight,” DePaolo said, noting that too many hitting errors were the culprit. Kasson also slapped three of Melissa’s five service aces and Chelsea George logged two. Charlie Lane’s 2.5 passer rating was tops for the Lady Cards and George posted a 2.3 - both above the team goal. Sophia Davis tallied a Melissa-best 18 assists and Lane added 17, while George dug up 23 balls and Kasson followed with 14. Davis chipped in 13 digs and Ella Branson had 11. Lane and Abbey Maldonado teamed for the Lady Cards’ lone assist-block.

For Anna, Hannah Howell posted 22 digs — one-third of the team total — and she led the Lady Coyotes with nine kills. Other big diggers for Anna were Julianne Curiel with 17 and Lauren Schlicht with 13. Adding to the Lady Coyotes’ 29 kills were Rachel Goade with eight and Qua Fisher’s five. Bella Boyd picked up 17 of Anna’s 28 set-assists and Haley Thornburg got nine. Schlicht fired two service aces and Boyd added one while Aubreanna Traylor got up for the Lady Coyotes’ single solo block.

Set by set

Melissa cruised through Set 1 without much push back. Kills by Blake, Maldonado and Lane sparked the Lady Cards to a 9-3 advantage and drew a timeout from Crosby. After Anna Fortenberry’s smack-shot from the middle had Melissa up, 15-7, the Lady Coyotes rallied with two Lexi Stewart kills and Traylor’s block but - it wouldn’t last. Blake’s deep kill from the left sent the lead to 18-11 and the Lady Cards rolled from there. Kasson’s big hit from the left side made it 23-13 and back-to-back Anna hitting errors closed out the set.

Set 2 had a different feel from the beginning as the Lady Coyotes jumped out, 5-2, with kills from Schlicht and Howell. But a block and a kill by soon knotted the score and four more ties would occur enroute to 10-10. Anna moved ahead again, 19-13 — equaling its biggest lead of the match — and looked to be in control. The Lady Cards, though, surged once more to tie it at 21 boosted by a Kasson-Blake-Kasson kill-salvo on consecutive plays. After one more knot at 22, Melissa swept the final three points on Blake’s kill and back-to-back Anna hitting errors.

As Set 3 began, perhaps fans on both sides of the gym saw a sweep coming - but evidently not the Lady Coyotes. After eight early ties, Anna took a 12-11 edge on a Lady Cards’ deep shot out of bounds and never trailed again. When Fisher’s kill from the middle made it 15-11, DePaolo went to timeout. Out of the break, Melissa recovered to even things at 15 - boosted by Blake’s big outside swing to the middle - but the Lady Coyotes answered. Two Goade kills and one from Howell soon had Anna up, 20-15, and from there the Lady Coyotes rolled, 5-2, to the finish. A Melissa net ball ended the set.

The Lady Cards led Set 4 wire-to-wire in a near replay of the match-opener. Early kills by Kasson and KG Matthews were followed by three big swings from Blake for an 8-2 lead. A kill each from Goade and Howell kept Anna within 9-4 but the Lady Cards soon moved up, 16-6. The Lady Coyotes would get no closer than seven points and Kasson kills on two of the final three plays clinched the match.

Players react

Anna’s Howell said her team’s top priority was “trying to stay up, trying to encourage each other — team work. If we would have gotten that second set, I think it would’ve been a different outcome. But I’m definitely proud of how we worked and I think we’re ready for the rest of district.”

“Their back row, they were really good,” Fisher said of Melissa. “Then their setting placement, they were good at that too. … When we come together we’re really good but when we split apart it’s bad. We just need to work together more as a team.”

“It’s always nice to start off district with a win,” Lady Cardinal Blake said. “I think we played well. Anna definitely got scrappier after the first set. I think it kind of threw us off but we got back on our game and we won. That’s all that matters. … I think we had good energy and I don’t think we let our team get down. We knew we could beat them if we just stuck to our game.”

“I would say in [Sets] 1 and 4 we were really playing to our potential,” Fortenberry said. “And in 2 and 3 we kind of let off. … [Anna] played amazing defense. They really did well blocking and they did a defense that we haven’t really hit much against so all of our normal spots were taken. … I think we’ll do well and this will teach us a good lesson going forward.”

Said DePaolo, “I learned that under a little bit of stress we faltered just a little bit. But we also came back from 19-13 and won a set. That was big for us. Even though we lost Set 3, it really gave us some momentum going into Set 4 that we could do it.”