CELINA — Celina’s Lady Bobcats made an early statement in the District 11-4A race on Oct. 1, topping Melissa in straight sets, 26-24, 25-15, 25-6. These teams should both be in the hunt for a district title this season - along with Aubrey and perhaps Sanger - but this night Celina (18-10, 2-0) held all the cards.


Melissa (25-9, 1-1), started strong, powering to a comfortable early lead in Set 1, but from there the Lady Cats took charge — rallying to win that first set, then taking pivotal Set 2 and entirely dominating Set 3.


“I truly believe it was about the momentum,” Lady Cats head coach Ginger Murray said. “We’ve been really worked up for this game - and this week, in general, with Melissa and Aubrey. … We’ve been really pumped up and I think the crowd, of course, they knew it was going to be big. It was mainly just getting going and shaking off some of the nerves … and making a few adjustments here and there. I guess it showed in that second and third set.”


Up-front, Murray pointed to outside hitter Heather Griffith and middle Casey Thomas as having top performances, along with Alyssa Radtke and Sage Murray in the back.


Caroline Kasson collected a team-high eight kills for the Lady Cards and Brooklee Waltrip knocked down seven. KG Matthews led Melissa with nine set-assists as Ella Branson logged seven. Waltrip also slapped a team-best three aces. On the dig front, libero Chelsea George posted 16 and Matthews chipped in 13. The team’s leading blocker, Ally Marshall, was sidelined by injury.


“I think we came out excited about our chances of winning tonight,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “I think Celina came out a little nervous. They’re at home and we jumped on them pretty good.” DePaolo pointed to a stretch of missed hits in Set 1 as the point when the match turned. “Once they got that first set under their belt, the real team showed up. The team we were beating in the beginning was them being a little timid and us hitting on all cylinders. When they started hitting on all cylinders our team didn’t rise to the occasion tonight. … I’m still looking for leadership. I think a team of leaders doesn’t let Set 3 happen.”


Melissa versus Celina has become quite a rivalry in recent years. Loud Bobcat fans indeed turned out for this meeting on their home court. The school’s packed student section was in rare form, chanting “Over-rated!” late in the second and third sets, and “A whole four points!” as Melissa trailed, 19-4, in Set 3. A couple even called out DePaolo by name near the end of the match.


Early in Set 1, Celina looked to be in for a tough evening as the Lady Cards methodically worked over their hosts with solid in-system play. But leading, 11-4, things changed with three-straight Melissa hitting errors. A right-side kill from Matthews stemmed the tide for a moment - giving the Lady Cards a 12-7 edge - but consecutive Melissa service faults followed and the Lady Cats had their opening.


When Celina crept to within 13-10, DePaolo called timeout. Kasson opened subsequent play with back-to-back outside kills, but Celina soon forged a 15-15 tie. From there the fight was on. Four logjams ensued - including 24-24 - as Alexis McCombs’ tip-over kill from the middle, a Kasson ace and back-to-back Waltrip kills kept Melissa in it. But in a final burst, the Lady Cats closed it out with successive kills to the middle.


After Melissa broke on top, 3-0, in Set 2, the Lady Cats soon got to 3-3 with an ace and a right-side block. Hitting errors then beset Celina, sparking the Lady Cards to a 6-3 advantage, but three ties would follow on the way to 9-9. There, the Lady Cats took separation, rolling to 16-10 with a deep kill down the left line, a block on the right and two more kills - one to the right, one to the left. For their sixteenth point, Celina players laid out for two crucial saves before a Lady Cards shot found the net.


Celina led, 19-13, when Waltrip answered with an ace. The Lady Cats then tallied five straight points without a posting a kill. Kasson’s kill deep down the left side got Melissa to within 24-15, but a tip-back block from the middle quickly ended the set.


Set 3 was all Celina as the Lady Cats stormed to a 15-0 lead. Melissa got untracked with kills by Kasson, Abbey Maldonado and Matthews to trail, 19-4, though the lead soon surged to 22-5. McCombs’ middle kill got Melissa to 22-6 before a big right-side swing by Celina followed by back-to-back rotation calls on the Lady Cards concluded the match.