By Pat Turner
Volleyball is in the third round of the playoffs and Clark, Brandeis, O’Connor and Harlan are still going strong.
All four NISD teams had impressive wins in the first two rounds and are looking to do the same in the regional quarterfinals. After all, Region IV Tournament berths are on the line.
Reaching that pinnacle should offer more interesting situations. District 28-6A Clark takes on New Braunfels Canyon, while district rivals Brandeis and O’Connor battle it out.
In 5A, 28-5A champion Harlan faces Boerne Champion.
Warren lost its bi-district meeting to Churchill, 3-1.
This past week gave all four teams an opportunity to display their strengths.
The Unicorns stunned Clark earlier with a 25-18 victory in the first set. However, the Cougars found that spark which carried them to a sweep over Madison.
Behind the hitting combo of Kara McGhee, Elise McGhee, Grace Gibson, Taylor McDonough, Kylie Garrett and the passing of Ashley Hu and Irie Mendez, the Cougars evened the match with a 25-20 victory before taking charge with 25-14, 25-21 victories.
“We just trusted in each other,” Hu said. “We played together and played Clark volleyball. We’re playing really well and getting it together. We’re giving each other positive encouragement.”
Brandeis was involved in dramatic matches throughout District 28-6A while grabbing a share of second place with O’Connor. So, it was no surprise to see the same thing happen in playoff victories over Johnson (3-0) and Austin Westlake (3-2).
Although the match with Westlake went down to the wire with a 15-11 win, the sweep over Johnson didn’t come easy either.
Being in that situation before enabled Brandeis (33-11) to overcome the pressure.
“I think being in the tough matches in district helped us,” setter Chase Kuna said. “Whenever we’re down, we’re able to get together and come back. We have confidence and know we can do it.”
In game one against Johnson, Chidera Ugwokaegbe, Maya Smalls, Ava Magnabosco and Jalyn Gibson’s hits put Brandeis at a 23-19 advantage. The Jaguars carved away at the Broncos’ lead and tied the score at 24-all.
However, much-needed defensive stops by Kluna (13 digs) and Kristen Meier (22 digs) and two errors by Johnson gave Brandeis a 26-24 win.
Set two wasn’t any easier. Brandeis leaped to a 17-11 lead with more kills from Magnabosco, Smalls and Gibson. However, the Jaguars staged another rally to pull within in 23-21.
Kluna, who delivered 38 assists, got involved in the scoring as a hitter by sending a kill past the Jaguars to put Brandeis at set point. A Johnson return landed in the net, enabling Brandeis to gain a 2-0 advantage with a 25-21 win.
Johnson didn’t let up in game three. At one stretch, the Jaguars owned a 16-12 lead following an ace from Rachel Morse and Hailey Harmon and Caitlin Wilson’s kills.
Johnson quickly tied the score and went to set point on Chloe Martin’s ace.
After an error led to another tie, the Jaguars regained the lead on Wilson’s hit.
Kluna set up golden scoring opportunities for Smalls and Selby Draker to ice the match with a 29-27 victory.
Brandeis started strong against Westlake with a 26-24 victory. Then, the Broncos found themselves in a hole after the Chaparrals took the next two sets, 25-22, 26-24.
Brandeis stayed calm and with the guidance of Smalls, prevailed with a win to force a fifth set.
“We’ve been tested this year,” Brandeis coach Maddie Williams said. “They know how to respond. We’re doing well. We still want to keep improving, because every team we play is good in the playoffs.”
The defending Region IV champions started the playoffs in impressive fashion by sweeping Reagan and Clemens.
The Panthers (38-11), who defeated Reagan in the regional finals a year ago, took charge of the match by pounding out 25-11, 25-12, 25-19 wins.
Everything clicked O’Connor’s way.
The offense was well-balanced with kills coming from Gabby De Los Santos, Kali Nelson, Lexi Davila, Emily Ogogor, Sunnie Ozment and Bryshanna Brown.
Passes from Marina De La Rosa, who had 19 assists, Terez Chavez (17 assists) and Peyton Hummel set up the opportunities. The defense provided the needed backing with De La Rosa, Brown and Jordan Schenkel making the key stops throughout the match.
O’Connor didn’t let up against Clemens, rolling to 25-18, 25-16, 25-21 wins.
The Panthers broke away with more solid play from De Los Santos and Brown in the first two sets, but the Buffaloes created more problems in game three.
O’Connor was able to finish on a high note with kills from De Los Santos.
Harlan is enjoying its first playoff experience after reaching round three with a 3-0 sweep of Edison and a 3-1 win over Harlandale.
The Hawks (30-12) rolled past Edison in convincing fashion with 25-16, 25-18, 25-10 wins. Harlandale was a different story as the Indians put the first-year program in highly-pressure situations throughout the match.
Harlan warded off Harlandale rallies in the first two sets behind the play of Arissa Willis, Ashley Chatham, Kiana Fallaha, Ayanna Jackson, Alexa Gomez, Jevani Hanspard, Anita Martin and Julie Arguijo for 25-16, 25-18 wins.
The biggest challenges for Harlan followed. After getting the 2-0 edge, the Hawks hit a lull as Harlandale soared to a 25-13 victory in game three.
Harlan appeared to be making a full recovery after an ace by Arguijo and kills from Jackson and Martin propelled the Hawks to a 15-5 lead in the fourth set. Once again, here came Harlandale.
The Indians cut the deficit to 19-17 but Harlan held off the comeback bid.
Chatham came up with a block and Fallaha added a kill. In addition, the Hawks benefitted from Harlandale’s errors to build a 24-20 advantage.
Hanspard helped the Hawks close out the match by setting up a kill for Fallaha for a 25-20 victory.
“We kept our composure regardless of what was going on,” Harlan coach Monica Gonzales said. “Harlandale did some great things. I told our kids they were going to grind, and we had to fight back. We took a little rest (third set) and took our foot off the gas. Fortunately, we had enough in the tank.”
For images from the game log onto https://echosportszone.pixieset.com/