MELISSA — A full house was on hand Friday at Melissa Middle School as Celina (7-0) claimed the rematch with district-rival Melissa, 3 sets to 1. While the Lady Cards (4-3) battled better this time, the Orange and White came away with much the same result as when the schools met in a raucous affair at Celina on Oct. 1.
Melissa fans got plenty loud this night as well — especially when the Lady Cards scrapped to a 26-24 victory in Set 2 after dropping the opener. Celina went on to win the next two, 25-15, 25-18, to conclude the regular-season sweep.
Lady Bobcats head coach Ginger Murray called it a playoff atmosphere. “We knew it was going to be a big atmosphere,” she said, “especially with our football team playing here [the same night]. … I told my girls, ‘You’ve just got to stay composed. Don’t let anything get in your heads.’ And we recovered well after that second set.”
Murray said dropping their first set to Melissa this season caused no panic. “If anything, it probably fueled our fire. Yeah, we didn’t want to drop a set. We don’t want to drop a set to anybody. … But when it did happen, it’s almost like it’s a good thing. It really woke us up.”
The Lady Cards have three district matches left — Gainesville (0-7), Sanger (3-4) and Aubrey (6-1) - and can still finish as high as tied for second place. But for now, as any coach will say, it’s one match at a time.
“Our biggest deficiency is consistency,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said, “just forcing another team to continue to play volleyball for an extended period of time. We depend on a couple of people and when those people are having a hard time, we just don’t — right now — have anyone else to step up. And we don’t do a very good job of earning points in chunks, but we do a really good job of allowing points in chunks.”
Caroline Kasson and KG Matthews combined for 24 of Melissa’s 30 kills, with Kasson swinging for 14. Ella Branson and Kenzie Segleski collected two service aces apiece and a trio of Lady Cards got up for two solo blocks each — Abbey Maldonado, Ally Marshall and Kasson. Matthews led the way in set-assists with 15 while Branson added 11. Libero Chelsea George was busy, getting to 27 digs, and Kasson popped up 11.
In Set 1, Celina looked ready to pick up where they left off, leading 12-7 and 13-8. But the Lady Cards charged back with a 5-2 run, boosted by three Kasson kills, to trail 15-13, and soon Marshall’s left-side block had Melissa within one, 17-16. When Segleski’s ace tied it — sending Celina to time out — competing high-decibel chants of “Red-Red” and “Let’s Go Bobcats” bounced off the walls as The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” blared from the PA system. Things stayed rowdy as Melissa took its first lead on a Lady Bobcats 4-hit call then went ahead, 19-17, on another Marshall block. From there, though, Celina ran the table, 7-0, for the win.
The Lady Cards showed more resilience in Set 2, rallying from 18-13 and 23-18 holes to trail, 23-22, on kills by Brooklee Waltrip and Kasson. The gym was rockin’ again when Melissa fought back from the brink — down 24-22 — with Saniah Anthony’s big slap from the outside. A double-hit on the Lady Bobcats tied it at 24-24 and a rotation infraction put Melissa up, 25-24. Then, as Lady Cards fans erupted, Kasson swatted home the set-winner from the outside.
The stung Lady Bobcats came out strong in Set 3, rolling to leads of 7-2 then 19-12, and this time Melissa had no answer. Kills by Kasson, Matthews and Waltrip down the stretch got the Lady Cards to within 22-14 but Celina cruised on to a 10-point win.
Back-to-back kills by Kasson in Set 4 kept Melissa close, 12-10, before the Lady Bobcats pushed ahead, 21-12. The Lady Cards had one last burst when George served six-straight points to trail, 21-18, but that would be it. With Celina fans on their feet, leading 24-18, a kill to the back line ended it.