MELISSA – The Lady Cardinals kept their district title hopes alive with a crucial four-set takedown of Celina on Friday at Melissa Middle School - especially noteworthy for the fact that the Lady Bobcats had downed Melissa in straight sets on Sept. 25. With a winning ledger of 25-15, 16-25, 25-19, 25-15, Melissa (5-2) broke up a three-way tie for second place in District 11-4A, leaving just the Lady Cards and Aubrey knotted there, one game back of Sanger. Celina (4-3) falls into fourth place.


Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said his team isn’t talking about all that. “They’re just talking about winning one game at a time,” he said. “I’m looking at where we are and what it means, and all that kind of stuff.”


“Tonight, we focused in on three [Celina] hitters and one wasn’t here tonight. We ended up doing really well against the two that did come.” And that’s with a last-minute twist: During pre-game, DePaolo noticed that one of those Lady Bobcat big hitters, Casey Thomas, had moved from the middle to the left side of Celina’s front. “In warm-up,” he said, “I called my girls over earlier than normal and said, ‘Hey, look. This is life. We’ve got to change things.’ With a minute to go, we changed our defense … and they did a great job right off the bat in Set 1 of not letting that change affect them.”


“It was definitely an important game,” Melissa senior outside hitter Susan Blake said. “We came in knowing that we had to win this game if we want to win district. I think we all had our heads on right and we started with the little things.” As for what makes Celina formidable, Blake noted, “They have good hitters and they’re super scrappy. We have to know where to hit and we have to hit hard if we want to win against their defense. And they’re really consistent.”


Blake and junior outside hitter Caroline Kasson both got way up for strong downward shots this night, something Kasson attributed to her teammates’ sets. “They were such beautiful sets,” she said, “and I was able to put the ball down. With Suzie, her sets were just amazing and she was able to put the ball down just as well.”


Of Melissa’s 38 kills, Kasson and Blake blasted a combined 25, with Kasson’s 15 leading the way. Charley Lane was next with eight. The Lady Cards posted nine service aces, with Lane firing a team-high three and Sophia Davis and Kasson adding two apiece. Kasson and Anna Fortenberry split four assist blocks, while Davis logged 18 of the team’s 34 set-assists. Lane and Chelsea George were next with eight and six, respectively. Four Lady Cards recorded double-digit dig totals, including George’s 18, Blake’s 16, Kasson’s 12 and Davis’ 11. All told, Melissa dug up 73 balls.


“We didn’t pass as well,” DePaolo said, “but we got to a lot of balls that would come off the blocks, so your passing is not going to be great. … Man, I can’t say how much we touched the ball and that made a world of difference that we didn’t have last time [versus Celina].”


Melissa jumped out, 5-1, in Set 1 off Celina hitting errors and a Blake kill. The Lady Bobcats pushed back to within 1, at 5-4, but successive big swings from Kasson kept Melissa up, 8-5. Lane then punched out back-to-back aces for an 11-5 advantage, sending Celina to its first timeout. Four Blake kills down the stretch kept the Lady Bobcats at bay, including a rocket-stroke from the middle of Lane’s short set to make it, 17-12. Davis then lipped a service ace over the net and Celina called another timeout, down 20-12. Out of the break, Lane capped a long volley with a kill from the right and Lady Cards pushed on for the 10-point win.


Lady Bobcat hitters came alive in Set 2 with a 5-0 opening burst that sent Melissa to its first timeout of the match. Celina’s advantage increased to 9-2 before the Lady Cards mounted a comeback. Blake’s deep left-to-right kill provided Melissa’s first offensive point of the set and trimmed the deficit to 11-8. Four Lady Bobcat kills were answered by two Kasson kills and one from Lane, as the Lady Cards stayed close, 18-13. KG Matthews’ two right-side swats for Melissa made it 20-15 and 23-16, respectively, but it wasn’t enough. Celina’s block to an open spot in the middle brought the Lady Cards to the brink before the set ended on a Melissa hitting error.


Pivotal Set 3 was tied four times on the way to 9-9. From there, the Lady Cards got some breathing room at 18-11, aided by single service aces from Fortenberry and Blake and kills from Lane and Kasson. After a Celina timeout, Abbey Maldonado push-killed one to the middle for a 19-11 edge and Kasson’s two big blasts and an ace soon helped the margin to 22-15. Three late Lady Bobcat kills got it to 24-19 before Blake’s no-set big swing to the middle ended the set.


With a chance to wrap it up in Set 4, Melissa got out to a 4-0 lead on a pair of Blake kills sandwiched around a Davis service ace. Lane’s kill from the right side and a tip-over from Kasson sent the margin to 7-2 as Celina fans began to think about where they’d parked their cars. But the Lady Bobcats weren’t quite done. Twice they knocked down back-to-back kills to get within striking range at 10-7 – then two aces helped get it to 16-14. From there, though, the Lady Cards romped, 9-1, to the finish. Kasson’s big swing followed by her combo block with Fortenberry put Melissa up, 24-15. Blake’s ace then closed out the match.


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Worthy causes get a boost


It was “Dig Pink Night” for Lady Cards volleyball on Friday, a time to raise awareness for breast cancer and honor local breast cancer survivors as well as one who had passed on. Besides an abundance of pink apparel throughout the gym, including Melissa’s bright pink warm-up jerseys, five breast cancer survivors were recognized at midcourt between the varsity and junior varsity matches. Each was escorted by a Lady Cardinal player.


Survivors who were honored and presented flower bouquets were Devorah McPherson, Elain Giles, Michelle Harp, Stacy Murphy and Angie Hergesheimer. The late Linda Hite was also remembered.


“I don’t have a relative that has breast cancer,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said after the presentation, “but one of my mom’s best friends had breast cancer and a mastectomy back when that was really all they could do. So it means a lot to me and it means a lot to our kids. Abbey Maldonado’s grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. I just think this … allows the girls to see, ‘Yeah, we can be strong too.’ I want our girls to see other women be strong.”


Additionally, the Lady Cards sponsored a “Dig Pink” bake sale before and during their match with Celina, an effort that raised $750 for breast cancer awareness programs.


Another worthy cause, the Melissa Food Bank, also received a boost on Friday through a day-long “Fill the Fan Bus” food drive, a push sponsored by the Melissa Booster Club and Melissa Community Outreach. Nearly 800 items were donated, with Lady Cards Abbey Maldonado, KG Matthews and Chelsea George leading the way with 191, 169 and 131 items collected, respectively.