Story of the Year: Lady Wildcats power past Pearce, bound for regionals semis
GARLAND -- Call the Region II quarterfinals a microcosm of the Plano Senior volleyball team's playoff run this season.
Embarking upon a new stage and a challenge, incurring an early, nerve-riddled hiccup and settling in to regain control. Tuesday's tilt against Richardson Pearce followed that blueprint point for point, with Plano persevering in four sets (25-21, 24-26, 25-19, 25-10) from the Curtis Culwell Center.
"It's the story of the year for this team," said Teri Minnis, Plano head coach. "Once we settle down, we can be pretty good. It's kind of frustrating because I know how good we can be but we just get in our way a little bit."
After surrendering a back-and-forth second set, the Lady Wildcats seized control of the match for good midway through the third frame after the Lady Mustangs pulled ahead, 14-13.
The Lady Wildcats answered with a 6-0 run for a 19-14 lead, keyed by serving from junior Natalie Fazio who compiled two aces during the rally, plus two kills and a block by senior Madison Morell.
"I've been working with Natalie on her toss," Minnis said, "and getting her comfortable serving it hard every time. It showed tonight and she got it going."
The Lady Wildcats rounded out the set with two more blocks, courtesy of juniors Kylie Long and Aubrey Davis before Long connected on her seventh kill of the frame to put Plano back in front, 2-1.
Long led the Lady Wildcats with 21 kills on the night, recording nearly one-third of her successful attacks in the fourth set. Out-killing Pearce by herself, 6-5, Long helped Plano establish an 11-6 lead before five consecutive Lady Mustang errors and two more Long kills equated an 18-8 advantage.
"I'm not even sure what the calls were," Minnis said. "We talked about going to that side and putting the pressure on them, not letting up and not giving them a chance to breathe."
Senior Audrey Landry and Davis added aces, with Morell closing out the match with her 11th kill of the evening.
"We talked after Game 2 that we can't have any regrets," Minnis said. "You can't play with regrets and you've got to leave everything out there and that's exactly what the kids did in sets three and four."
Plano's rebound effort came after tallying 17 kills in the second set to just 10 from Pearce. The Lady Mustangs were able to weather the Lady Wildcats offensive by virtue of 10 Plano errors to just four Pearce miscues.
Blocks weren't in abundance for Pearce during the match, but two rejections by Mimi Richards nudged the Lady Mustangs in front, 22-21. The teams traded points until 24-24, with a Plano attack error and an ace by Brianne Burkert dealing Pearce the set.
"[Pearce] fights, comes hard and doesn't let much hit the floor," Minnis said. "That's what they did to us and it took us a while to adjust to their two lefties on the left side but once we settled down and figured out our blocking adjustments, we took care of it."
Burkert led the Lady Mustangs with 12 kills, followed by Kendall Goss with 11.
The tandem combined for nine of Pearce's 14 kills in the first set, while the Lady Wildcats mustered just 11. The rest of the Plano points were largely provided up front, with the Lady Wildcats totaling six blocks in the opening set.
Fazio, Davis, Morell, Seal, Landry and Long all got in on the block party, pacing the Lady Wildcats to their seventh straight postseason set win and lay the groundwork for a berth in the Region I semifinals.
Now bound for the fourth round of the postseason, Plano meets Humble Kingwood Friday at 8 p.m. from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.