By Pat Turner
Clark coach Melissa Miller and her players knew what was coming in the second round of District 28-6A.
After running the table in the first half, the league-leading Cougars expected to get opponents’ best effort. Brandeis confirmed that belief this past Tuesday in what turned out to be a classic matchup.
Despite being pushed to the limit, the Cougars prevailed with a 3-2 victory.
“That’s the kind of match you expect in this district,” Miller said. “Brandeis played out of their minds across the board. They came ready to play. It also showed me a lot about our team. We faced adversity but battled through it. I think that showed a lot. We haven’t been in that situation in a while.”
Clark (38-3, 18-0) followed with a 3-0 victory over Marshall.
Brandeis (20-10, 10-3) fell to third place but recovered with a 3-0 win over Brennan. O’Connor (33-9, 11-2) remained in second with 3-0 victories over Jay and Taft.
Brandeis made a statement quickly against Clark.
The Cougars swept its previous district matches, but this time they were behind the eight-ball after Mya Smalls, who finished with 26 kills and 26 digs, Chidera Ugwokaegbe and Jalyn Gibson paced the Broncos to a 25-23 victory.
Clark started the game in typical Clark fashion by pounding out a 20-13 lead behind hits from Kara McGhee, who finished with 27 kills, Elise McGhee and Grace Gibson.
An ace by Chase Kluna and hit from Smalls brought the Broncos within 22-19. Gibson’s tip over the net gave the Cougars another four-point lead, but that’s when Brandeis began its late run.
Two errors and kills by Ugwokaegbe tied the score at 23-all. After a Clark net violation, Jalyn Gibson’s spike wrapped up the set.
Game two was more back-and-forth tactics.
Smalls, Ugwokaegbe and Gibson continued to create problems with their work on passes from Kluna, who delivered another ace.
At the same time, passing by Ashley Hu, who finished with 44 assists, and Irie Mendez (33 assists), got Clark’s attack charging to a 17-12 lead. Though Brandeis staged another late rally, the Cougars prevailed this time.
Saves by Madison Cuellar and Shadee Briggs proved valuable. Kara McGhee and Elise McGhee came up with a combo block. In between that play, Kayla delivered two smashes for a 25-20 win.
Clark maintained that pace in the third set while building a 22-16 advantage, highlighted by a Kara McGhee ace and kill from Elise McGhee.
Finishing proved difficult once again as Brandeis moved within 24-22 on Smalls’ ace and kill. The Cougars wrapped it up with Grace Gibson’s smash for a 25-22 victory.
Game four took a different twist as Brandeis was the one gaining the quick edge. Amy DeWalt and Kluna helped the Broncos’ cause by delivering aces and teaming with Kristen Meier for crucial defensive stops. Kluna (29 assists) and Trinity Herrera (27 assists) also gave the offensve spark by setting up scoring opportunities for Smalls, who went on a hitting tear for a 16-10 advantage.
Clark, however, responded like Brandeis in the previous sets. Kara McGhee’s hits and ace and Micayla Reiland’s kill brought the Cougars within 20-19. After a running save and return by Elise McGhee, the Broncos committed two errors, enabling Clark to pull ahead, 21-20.
Smalls and Gibson got Brandeis cranking again for a 25-22 victory to force game five.
Neither team could get a strong advantage in the deciding set. Clark managed to carve out an early 5-3 lead on Kara McGhee’s fifth ace and Kyleigh Garrett’s kill, but Brandeis tied the score quickly on Smalls’ hit and ace.
From that point, the two went back-and-forth until Clark grabbed a 14-12 lead on Elise McGhee’s kill. Once again, finishing was difficult.
Brandeis foiled Clark’s first three opportunities at match point. However, the fourth time worked. Tied at 15-15, Daria Lane came up with a diving stop and got the ball to Mendez, who set up a kill for Garrett. The Cougars iced the match when a Brandeis return ended up in the net.
“We found a way to win,” Kara McGhee said. “Brandeis is an amazing team. We were nervous at first, but we were able to handle the pressure. We had so many players doing their job.”
Brandeis didn’t dwell on the loss, Instead, the Broncos used it as a learning experience.
It showed against Brennan.
“It was a painful loss,” Brandeis coach Maddie Williams said. “But we didn’t get mad. We got a lot of good from it. We learned a lot and that was important. We got behind several times (against) Clark but came back. In this match (with Brennan) we kept our composure when we got behind. We didn’t get rattled.”
The Broncos cruised to a 25-15 win in the first set with the help of Gibson, Smalls and Ugwokaegbe, but the Bears, coming off a 3-1 victory over Taft, gave a serious push in the next two games.
Brennan shot to a 12-6 lead in the second game with the hitting of Kayla Lofland, Gabby Arredondo and Lexi Williams. The Broncos fought back to tie the score on Smalls’ tip and
Ava Magnabosco’s smash.
Brandeis moved in front, but Brennan staged a rally to tie the score at 23-23. Gibson got the Broncos over the hump by pounding a hit past the Bears for a 25-23 win,
Brandeis needed more late heroics in game three as more pressure from the Bears kept the Broncos hopping after vaulting to an 18-15 lead.
Gibson helped Brandeis finish strong with three kills down the stretch for a 25-21 win.
“We stayed together,” Gibson. “We talked about it (after the loss) and picked each other up. We didn’t give up. Everyone was working together.”
The Panthers continued to roll in the second round with their sweeps of Jay and Taft.
O’Connor’s defense was solid from Peyton Hummel, Jordan Schenkel and Terez Chavez, who also teamed with Marina De La Rosas to set up opportunities.
Lexi Davila, Gabby De Los Santos, Bryshanna Brown, Sunnie Ozment, Kali Nelson and Emily Ogogor turned the passes into scores at a consistent pace during the Panthers’ break-away performances.
The Panthers look to keep the pace during matches with Brandeis and Marshall this week.
The Warriors appear to be back on track following a three-game losing streak.
Warren’s 3-0 wins over Holmes and Stevens, coupled with Brennan’s loss to Brandeis, enabled the Warriors (19-19, 9-4) to hold fourth place.
After zipping past Holmes, 25-13, 25-10, 25-8, Warren kept the pace in the first two sets while registering 25-16-25-9 victories.
Stevens (22-15, 5-8), which began the week with a 3-0 win over Marshall, provided a serious push in game three and had an opportunity to extend the match after Felicity Rodriguez, Micaela D’Andrea and Malaina Rodriguez’s hits put the Falcons in front.
Warren ended the match in three sets with big plays from Camryn Anderson, Loimata Tufuno, Bianca Rodriguez and Jenna Ouela.
Harlan’s run through District 28-5A continues to be successful.
The district-leading Hawks (24-12, 12-0) stayed at the head of the class with 3-0 wins over Southside and Uvalde.
Alexa Gomez, Arissa Willis, Kiana Fallaha, Ayanna Jackson, Amala Martin, Jevani Hanspard and Julie Arguijo paved the way for Harlan with their contributions.