STEPHENVILLE — It was easy until it wasn't for No. 3 Midlothian Heritage on the volleyball court Tuesday night against the Stephenville Honeybees.
The Jaguars played their form of volleyball — disciplined and sound on the back row in their serve receive — in winning sets one and two 25-10, 25-10 of a three-game sweep of host Stephenville. Set two, though, got a little away from (24-3, 3-0) Heritage and, 17 unforced later, the Jaguars were locked into a showdown well into the 60th point of the set.
First-year Heritage head volleyball coach Timmi Blackshear said after the match that she had never played or coached in a 36-34 set, which makes her 1-0 in her career after the Jaguars' 25-10, 36-34, 25-10 District 8-4A win.
Knowing her team would feed off of her energy and emotion in the back-and-forth nailbiter, Blackshear said she had to remain composed, at least on the outside, to keep the Jaguars focused.
"I know that as a coach, my girls feed off of my energy and I know in those types of situations keeping your composure is crucial to pulling through. I had to keep reminding myself of that, I was definitely stressed on the inside but never wanted the girls to see that," Blackshear said.
"I have to remain as calm as possible, feed their confidence, and just rely on the coaching and situations I put them in daily. I've remained impressed and proud of this group for always finding a way to win especially in tight sets. There's definitely something special about that."
Blackshear added she was grateful for the experience of playing to the 70th point of a set — and even more appreciative to come out with the W. She also noted the girls being flexible toward the end of the set while she implemented new strategies on the fly "shows really how dynamic they are, and most importantly coachable and willing to do whatever is best for the team even with last minute changes and adjustments."
During the match, Rachel Richie and Tori Needels combined for 44 assists with Julia Valdez fired home 16 kills, Karena Tipton another 12 and Hannah Larson nine. The chemistry between the five will be vital to the success of the Jaguars as they head into a rematch next Friday against Glen Rose and begin preparing for the playoffs, Blackshear noted.
The more in sync they are, she explained, will open up better opportunities for Katie Greer (7 kills, 2 blocks), Kelsey Carpenter (3 kills, 1 block, 4 digs), Grayce Davis (1 kill) and others.
"We are really trying to spread our offense and create one on one situations with our hitters and the more of a threat every hitter is, the more likely that will happen," Blackshear said. "We still have some work to do, but they are working hard every day to use every opportunity to get better."
On Tuesday, Valdez added 14 digs and an ace to her game-high 16 kills, while Katie Chambers accounted for 15 digs, Kaylee Rutenbar recorded 12 digs and Tipton added two digs to her pair of blocks and 12 kills.
Needles led the team with five aces, while Valdez and Richie added one.
Heritage will begin to close out the first half of district Friday at home against Life Waxahachie at 4:30 p.m. The Jaguars then host Alvarado on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. before traveling to TGCA 4A No. 1 (33-0, 3-0) Glen Rose on Friday, Sept. 29.