MAYPEARL — Maypearl's march to the University Interscholastic League 3A playoffs may not have begun with Friday's 3-0 win against Rice High School at Maypearl High School Gymnasium, but it may have been a necessary springboard to a district championship.
With three games remaining in their 2016 regular season schedule, the (19-15 overall, 9-1 in 17-3A) Lady Panthers handed the Lady Bulldogs in three sets despite a slow start in the first.
That early breakthrough was both indicative of the surge experienced against Keene on Tuesday and Rice's quick offense Friday and born from the sweat spilled on Maypearl hardwood in pursuit of state championship growth.
"For starters, our practices have been much more intense," said Kennedy Thorne, a Maypearl senior outside hitter. "What coach Wood is working to improve reaches down to the core of the team. Our defense has improved so much because of all the drills we have been doing to become defensively focused. We knew that was the issue and with coach's guidance, we are putting in everything we have to fix it."
Though Maypearl roared into the match, winning three consecutive sets 25-6, 25-10 and 25-11, the win was more of an extension of the second, third and fourth sets against Keene High School. Friday's performance —which extended the varsity volleyball team's home record to 9-0 — came three days after the Lady Panthers dismantled Keene with 15 aces from six different players, 33 assists from juniors Katie Gann and Kellie Blake and freshman Macy Terry and one of the team's highest dig totals of the season.
Against the Lady Chargers, Thorne and seven other Lady Panthers tallied 60 digs — the most since losing to Grandview High School on Sept. 30. Wood's added fuel hasn't only produced three straight wins for a Maypearl varsity volleyball team dreaming of district gold and postseason glory.
"Coach taught us to pay attention to the details of the game and by doing that, our defense has done a better job of keeping the ball off the ground," sophomore libero Steelie Ledbetter said. "We are doing a better job of anticipating their next move."
Wood's gentle shove in the winning direction also helped hand Blooming Grove, Palmer, Keene and Rice High Schools decisive losses. The four teams mustered a combined 201 points compared to the 322 the Lady Panthers scored in 13 sets between Oct. 4 and Oct. 14.
Ledbetter's game-high five aces, as well as the serving efforts of Thorne and Gann helped the Lady Panthers post double-digit ace totals against Rice.
Thorne said though she and her teammates have made forward progress, their improvement and work isn't over until Maypearl can call itself the home of the 3A volleyball champion — a journey that starts with their match with Mildred High School at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at MHS Gymnasium.
"Nothing needs to hit our or any gym floor ever," she said. "Honestly, we are a lot different since the Grandview loss. We tended to get a little too comfortable and cocky. We remember teams don't just fall down and die when you get a run on them and that the game isn't over till the last whistle is blown and we shake hands across the net. Our desire and hunger for the game and wins are growing with every practice. It was losing to a team we should have beaten that lit that a fire under us."