ARLINGTON – The roller coaster ride that is the volleyball season continued Friday.
Fresh off their No. 1 state ranking, the Waxahachie Lady Indians were put to the test in the Arlington Invitational when they were put in a pool with state-ranked Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Paschal and old rival Richardson Pearce, now a 5A school.
Waxahachie rolled to a 25-17, 25-18 win against Paschal to start the day. The good momentum continued into the contest with No. 9 Byron Nelson as the Lady Indians won 25-12, 25-13. Finally, Waxahachie had to face its old nemesis, Pearce.
The Lady Mustangs knocked the Lady Indians out of the playoff in the Regional Semifinals 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“There aren’t many players left we have that played against them, but these girls have been around the program long enough to know what it means to play them,” Faussett said. “They were fired up about getting to play Pearce. It’s a bit of a relief getting to play them and finally beating them.”
Only seniors Celi Bruce and Shelbie Tucker were on the varsity roster during the 2011 meeting with Pearce and they relished in Waxahachie’s 15-25, 25-22, 25-21 victory Friday.
“It’s great to beat them now. They knocked us out three years in a row in the fourth round,” Tucker said. “So it still definitely feels good to beat them.”
The Lady Indians were outplayed in the big loss in the first set and found themselves in a hole in game two as Pearce was up 6-1, but that’s the position they like being in.
“We play better when we’re down,” Tucker said. “We really just pulled together and ran with it.”
Sure enough, the team saw the lopsided scoreboard and quickly evened it at seven thanks to great play from Tucker and Bruce on defense.
But another run by the Lady Mustangs made it 13-8. Then Faussett used one of her secret weapons, Aeriel Horton.
“I like her personality on the court. She can really be a spark for us,” Faussett said. “I know she’s got a good serve and she’s going to lay out for everything and just add some excitement.”
During the second set against Nelson earlier in the day, Horton checked in with her teammates down 16-10 and she led a comeback that saw the team tie the score at 19 before winning.
This time, she came in and delivered back-to-back aces to start a rally that ended with Waxahachie in front 17-16. Audrey Willett had an ace, a stuff block and then a pair of hitting errors by Pearce ended the second set.
The third set was just about the exact same formula. Waxahachie trailed 17-10, Faussett took a time out, subbed in Horton, she got two more aces the Lady Indians rattled off eight straight points.
“We were a little down mentally when we were in that big hole, but then we knew that we have all the way to 25,” Tucker said. “So we were able to pick our heads back up and go out there.”
Then the entire team started chipping in. Lyndsey Griffith, Ellen Platt, Lauren Atkins each got kills as Waxahachie went from down 17-10 to up 24-21. Bruce finished the match with an ace and the Lady Inidans got that Pearce monkey off their back.
“They were so fired up about playing Pearce. I loved that game,” Faussett said. “Our hitting percentage wasn’t as strong, so that really shows a lot of credit to our defense. It’s sometimes overlooked, but just hanging in there tough, not making mistakes and playing great defense is huge for us right now.”
Waxahachie had 84 digs and just one ball-handling error in the Pearce victory. Bruce led the way with 23, Horton added 16 and Tucker had 14.
“We just have the mindset that nothing hits the floor and we just go all out,” Tucker said. “Aeriel is great, Celi is great. It’s good to play with other people in the back row that you trust.”
It’s remarkable that the team has been able to accomplish all of these big wins and rise to No. 1 in the state poll with two starters, Courtney Miller and Sorrel Barnes on the shelf for at least another month due to injuries or illness.
“I think that we are so close and we believe in each other,” Tucker said. “If somebody has to fill in for somebody, we all believe they can do it.”
Waxahachie only had about 20 minutes of rest after playing Pearce to get ready for another rival, Red Oak. This tournament has a crossover match between the top two seeds in a pool to decide where they go to bracket play. And just like last year, Waxahachie went undefeated in pool play, but lost the crossover to be sent to the Silver bracket, which they won in 2012.
Waxahachie swept the Lady Hawks in a tournament a few weeks ago, but this time Red Oak came out fighting and won 25-21, 19-25, 27-25.
“We just didn’t come out the same. We had just won the big game against Pearce,” Faussett said. “We got too emotional in that game and didn’t have the same intensity. We didn’t play the same game we had been playing.”
Waxahachie had a lead in the third set before Red Oak rallied to win.
“We got a little tentative, but we had our moments. We recovered a little bit, but just not enough,” Faussett said. “All in all it was a good day and I think this was a positive. We had been playing at a high level and being ranked so high gives you confidence, but no one takes you for granted after that. You’ve got to play your best. And we didn’t so it was a good lesson.”
The Lady Indians (16-4) finished up the tournament Saturday and will be back in action Tuesday at 6 p.m. at home versus Mansfield Timberview. Waxahachie will host Red Oak (12-6) to start district play Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m.