LEWISVILLE — In a back and forth slugfest Thursday in the Class 4A Region II area playoffs at Lewisville High School, Melissa’s Lady Cardinals (32-12) were nipped at the finish by Kennedale — 16-14, in decisive Set 5. It was a numbing way to lose — and, of course, it could have gone either way.

The Lady Kats (34-7) rallied twice from one set down to send the match to a fifth stanza. Their ledger over the first four sets showed, 18-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-16. The Lady Cards dominated at times in Sets 1 and 3, but Kennedale answered each loss with a victory then hung on late.

“Holy moley!” second-year Lady Kats head coach Kelly Carl said. “Welcome to Kennedale. That’s heart. That’s what these girls have. And it’s chemistry you can’t create. … Our nerves got us at first. But we fought through it.”

Set 5 was indeed a magnificent battle, with 11 ties and five lead changes. Melissa’s final advantage, 13-12, came on a big swing by Caroline Kasson from the outside. From there, a Lady Cards service fault tied it again before Kennedale stroked an outside kill to grab a 14-13 edge. Serving for match point, it was the Lady Kats’ turn to drive a serve into the net and, at 14-all, tensions were torrid. A strong right-side block gave Kennedale the lead for good, 15-14, and, on a tough Lady Cards hitting error, the match ended.

Just like that, Melissa’s season was over – seniors Caroline Kasson and Ella Branson were done. Those realities surely took a moment to sink in as the Lady Cards slapped hands with the victors and exited the court.

“That was the hardest part,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said of being so close – then seeing it end. “It was kind of like the end of an era, I guess you’d say. This is my fourth year [at Melissa] and Caroline was the last of the kids who were on that varsity team my first year there. Ella joined the varsity the next year but she didn’t become a starter until this year.

“It was a nice run. We had a pretty good season. … The first think I told them was, ‘There’s not a darned thing I can tell you today that’s going to make you feel any better. This one’s going to sting for a couple of weeks, just because of how close it was.’ I honestly feel that the winner of this match is going to go to the regional final.

“Caroline went out with a really good match,” DePaolo said, noting her 18 kills against a team like Kennedale. Kasson, last season’s Class 4A Player of the Year, finishes her Melissa career with a school-record 1,857 kills. DePaolo also praised libero Chelsea George for an “awesome” job in piling up 35 digs.

“Caroline’s kills and Chelsea’s digs really kept us in that match,” he said, adding that right-side hitter Saniah Anthony also had a good match.

Kasson’s kill total this night was followed by KG Matthews and Anthony with seven and six kills, respectively. Besides George’s nearly three dozen digs, she served up three aces. Matthews finished with 18 assists while Branson chipped in 13. Other double-digit diggers for Melissa were Mallorie Power with 11 and Kasson with 10. Kasson also got up for three solo blocks and Brooklee Waltrip logged one.

Melissa’s start in Set 1 was almost unimaginable – with leads of 7-0 and 10-1 as the Lady Kats fired multiple errant shots and Kasson and Anthony powered across early kills. It took two timeouts by Carl during that stretch to get the Lady Kats settled down. Out of their second break, they recorded their first kill and soon trailed, 14-9, sending DePaolo to his first timeout.

Kills by Waltrip and Kasson and George’s ace helped move the lead to 18-11 but the Lady Kats chipped back to within 19-16 on a sharp-angled kill at the net. A Kasson kill to the middle and Kenzie Segleski’s ace soon aided Melissa’s push to 23-17 and two Kennedale hitting errors then closed it out.

DePaolo said he knew the match was far from over. “I knew [Kennedale] just had some jitters. When their first serve went out of bounds and we scored a couple of points, I went, ‘I think this is going to be a good set.’ That wasn’t the team that I saw play against Lake Dallas the week before. I knew it was going to be tough.”

In Set 2, the Lady Kats did bounce back, taking separation at 8-3 then getting to 13-5 on three kills and an ace in six plays. After a Melissa timeout, the teams traded several hitting errors but the Lady Kats soon led, 19-9. A 9-2 Melissa run had cut the margin to 21-18 when a service fault halted the momentum. Kennedale took that opening to the finish, ending the set with a seeing-eye kill to the back line.

The Lady Cards jumped out even stronger in Set 3 than in Set 1 - blowing to a 13-2 lead, fueled by three Kasson kills and a Branson ace. Carl again went to near-back-to-back timeouts to stop the rout but this time would get the Lady Kats no closer than six points. After Anthony’s kill down the right side put Melissa up, 21-11, Kennedale mounted a 6-2 run - aided by three Lady Card hitting errors – but it wasn’t enough.

Facing elimination in Set 4, Kennedale posted its most dominant stretches of the match – surging to a 6-0 start then pulling away again after the Lady Cards fought back to tie it at 11, a comeback boosted by consecutive kills from Kasson, Waltrip and Matthews. Three-straight Kennedale kills and a big block got the Lady Kats to 17-11 before Matthews’ right-side shot to the middle answered back. But Kennedale would roll, 8-5, the rest of the way, ushering in the Lady Cards’ final set of 2019.

In the end, DePaolo thanked his varsity assistant coach, Kathy Barton, and assistant coaches Raechel Van Horn and Steve De Luna for their contributions this year. Van Horn and De Luna, he noted, are first-time volleyball coaches who ably handled Melissa’s two JV squads, while Barton’s experience is mainly in softball and basketball.

In the bi-district playoff round on Nov. 4, the Lady Cards swept three sets from Wilmer-Hutchins, 25-17, 25-16, 25-11, at Carrollton’s Hebron High School. “It’s always good when you can not play well and still win a match,” DePaolo said. “We definitely, by far, did not play our best.”

Kasson knocked down 14 kills and Anthony was next with five. George, Branson and Kasson each logged three aces while Matthew and Branson tallied 14 and 10 assists, respectively. George tallied a team-high 12 digs as Kasson chipped in seven and also recorded the Lady Cards’ lone solo block.

Moved up from JV for the playoffs were junior Janelle DeLaCruz, sophomore Kate McMinn, sophomore Mary Helen Richardson and freshman Sarah Hollenbeck. Richardson saw playing time in Set 3 after Sydney Norton was nicked-up making a big dive for a dig.