ANNA – To start the second round of District 11-4A volleyball action on Oct. 9, Melissa’s Lady Cardinals (4-2) served up a three-set sweep of Anna and stayed in firm contention for a district title — tied for second with Celina and Aubrey, one game back of Sanger. Melissa handily claimed Sets 1 and 2, 25-13, 25-14, then fought off a determined Lady Coyotes squad, 25-22, in the clincher.


“We always spend the first part of the year trying to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “We definitely had a weakness in our defense that we needed to fix. We put [an adjustment] into action on Friday [in the win] against Aubrey and then continued it on into today. That has really helped us.”


DePaolo noted that Anna (1-5) claimed one set versus the Lady Cards when the teams met on Sept. 21, and the three sets Melissa won then were closer. “I thought we did a lot better job tonight against them,” he said.


Anna head coach Tomika Crosby said the Lady Coyotes’ defense — specifically, no blocks — hurt her team the most this night. “We’ve got to have some stops or at least some touches to slow down the ball to give that back row an opportunity to dig that ball up. And we didn’t take care of that tonight.


“We changed the rotation just a little bit [in Set 3]. We went back to one of the old rotations we’ve played with before, moving some stronger hitters to different positions to try to help on the defensive side of it. It worked. It was a better game. … I think if we would’ve just had some stops that would have made a big difference.”


After this second win for the Lady Cards since a loss to Sanger on Oct. 2, DePaolo said he’s seen a change in his team. “I really feel we’re in a better place. Our team chemistry seems to be better. We’ve made a couple of defensive adjustments which I think takes some stress away from a couple of players. … And our senior leadership has really kind of led us through those two losses in the first round.”


Melissa posted 40 kills and 40 set-assists versus the Lady Coyotes, high numbers for a three-set match. Caroline Kasson led in kills with 14 and Blake swatted 13 while, in the middle, Anna Fortenberry tallied five and Charley Lane added four. “We did a really good job there,” DePaolo said, “especially getting our middles involved, hitting-wise.” Elsewhere, Lane’s 19 assists were a team-high and Sophia Davis popped up 18.


The Lady Cards swung for a solid .276 hitting percentage and had what DePaolo called the team’s “best passing game of year,” with George’s 2.73 rating and Lane’s 2.6. Kasson and Fortenberry got up for two assist blocks each and Kasson notched a solo block. Four Lady Cards collected double-digit digs as Melissa piled up 72 all told: George, 16; Kasson, 14; Ella Branson, 12; and Davis, 10. Kasson also fired across three of Melissa’s seven service aces, and Blake and George chipped in two each.


“I think our defense played really well,” Davis said. “We’ve been working a lot on our blocking and closing it so we can get the defense set up. … The team is looking really good. We’re on a good track right now.”


As for the offense, Fortenberry said, “We were being a lot more consistent and keeping our errors down, which is key for heading deeper into the season.” Lane added, “We were definitely working on speeding it up and getting more creative with our playsets. It’s really working.” Lane said she feels confident about the team heading into the final stretch of the district race. “We’ve got to win out, though. We don’t have any choice. But I feel really good about it.”


Julianne Curiel led Anna with six digs while Howell and Lauren Schlicht collected four apiece.


Howell batted back a team-high four of the Lady Coyotes 14 kills and Lexi Stewart and Aubreanna Traylor added three each. Bella Boyd’s seven set-assists led Anna.


In Set 1, Melissa bolted to a 7-2 advantage boosted by single kills from Blake, Kasson and Lane, and three Anna hitting errors. Qua Fisher’s kill from the right started a Lady Coyotes push-back that included Stewart’s kill to the back line and a big swing from the right by Rachel Goade. But Anna would get no closer than 8-7, 9-8. After a Kasson/Fortenberry block and Kasson’s deep kill to the middle, Melissa led, 11-8, and back-to-back hits from Blake would push it to 16-9. After a series of Lady Coyote hitting errors, a kill from George sent Melissa’s margin to 10 for the first time, 23-13. Howell’s deep kill for Anna would make it 23-15 but a sharp volley from the middle by Fortenberry soon ended the set.


The Lady Cards churned to another early lead in Set 2 aided by Lane, Kasson and KG Matthews kills. Responding for Anna during that drive to 12-5 were a pair of big swings from Stewart in the middle and Howell’s stroke from the left. Stewart’s second kill, at 9-5, would be Anna’s final offensive point of the set. Melissa pushed on to 20-12 on a left-to-right Matthews shot before Fortenberry’s kill sent the lead to 22-13. A Lady Coyotes hitting error closed out the set.


Set 3 was a battle as Anna fought to stave off the sweep. When the Lady Coyotes went up by two points for the first time in the match, at 4-2, DePaolo atypically called timeout. “Normally, I don’t call a timeout unless we’re down four or five points,” he said. “But I felt like we had lost focus and [the Lady Coyotes] were focused.” Anna went on to lead, 9-5, on a Howell kill down the left side but there were six more ties on the way to 19-19. Melissa went up for good, 20-19, on Kasson’s left-side kill and she followed that with an ace to send Anna to one last timeout. Fortenberry soon belted a kill from the middle for a 23-20 Lady Cards edge and, though two errant Melissa balls got the Lady Coyotes to within 24-22, Blake ended all thoughts of a fourth set with her next shot.


“I felt like Anna had a really good third set,” DePaolo said. “We kind of regained our focus right there towards the end and we did enough to win. Sometimes doing enough to win in district play is all you can ask for.”


What will Crosby look for from her team the rest of the way? “I want them to just fight,” she said, “play stronger defense - be that scrappy team and each night just show up. Show up to play and play with everything they have.” While not eliminated from the playoffs with four district matches left, Anna’s road to get there includes tough second meetings with Sanger, Aubrey and Celina. “All I want them to do is work hard,” Crosby said, “not think that they’re out of it.”


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Aubrey tops Lady Coyotes in three


From Staff reports


Aubrey’s Lady Chaparrals defeated Anna (1-6) in straight sets on Friday, 25-19, 25-17, 25-14, to remain tied with Melissa (5-2) for second place in District 11-4A. Aubreanna Traylor led Anna with nine of the team’s 21 kills and Rachel was next with five. Bella Boyd led the Lady Coyotes with 11 set assists and Julianne Curiel posted one ace and also collected 15 of Anna’s 50 digs while Lauren Schlicht added 12.


Hannah Howell registered the Lady Coyotes’ lone solo block.