MANSFIELD — Since falling to UIL class 6A and 5A powerhouse programs Prosper and Wakeland High Schools, the Lady Indians went 6-2, knocked off a district rival and came within earshot of winning a consolidation championship in a matter of three days.
Waxahachie High School fell to 6A Midland Lee High School in two sets during the Mansfield Sunrise Rotary Volleyball Tournament consolidation title round Saturday morning at Samantha Morrow Gymnasium.
It was also only the Lady Indians' second loss in its last eight matches.
"The third day we saw tougher competition but I feel like we met some really strong teams over the last two days," Head Coach Sandy Faussett said about the competition before the consolidation championship. "Our execution wasn't here today. We weren't using what we knew about the other teams effectively to make our job a little bit easier. We saw a lot of good things this weekend, but we just have a lot of inconsistencies right now — hitters that are hitting .350 one day and turn around and hit negative the next. We're looking for consistency, and that will happen with time."
Before Waxahachie (6-4) met the Lady Rebels, though, they cut a swath through competition in pool play, beating DeSoto, Haslet Eaton, Keller Central, Mansfield Legacy, Midland, and Timbercreek High Schools. Through the six matches, they won two-set sweeps and three-set victories and dropped sets to two of the three 6A schools they faced.
They also won the tournament last year after an undefeated tear through pool and championship bracket play.
"We have a lot of new players. What we have is great experience, but not much of it," she continued. "It's just the experience of going against big blocks. A lot of the ones that are new to varsity haven't experienced the blocking you'll see at bigger tournaments. (Audrey) Nalls is gone, too. She's a big piece with a lot of experience — not to take away what these girls did this weekend — and this team rose to the challenge without her. They more than proved that they could bring it."
This year's team was led by senior setter Taylor Stoops' 85 assists and 28 kills and team-leading 19 aces, as well as junior middle hitter Essence Clerkley's team-leading 35 kills, .355 kill percentage and 10 stuff blocks. Daring digs by Alli Wells (71), Baylee Whitehead (35), senior Sara Sims (33), and Stoops (29) also helped keep Waxahachie's average win margin at 6.2 points in 13 sets played.
Their fifth victory came during a two-set sweep of Mansfield Legacy. It marked the third consecutive against the Lady Broncos in two seasons and the first without Nalls, the Lady Indians' injured middle hitter.
"Every team has adversity. What's good about this is that these girls are getting confidence against really good teams without their most dominant hitter on the floor. We've had a lot of girls step up and play well," Faussett said after the team's win against District 10-5A rival Mansfield Legacy High School — its fifth straight.
Without the reigning district MVP, Waxahachie knocked off Timbercreek High School 25-15, 16-25 and 25-15 and then swept the Lady Broncos out of championship contention.
Waxahachie took the first set 27-25 after a pair of Mansfield Legacy hitting errors and Stoops' aces gave Waxahachie an early four-point lead. The Lady Broncos, though, rallied to take a 12-11 lead midway through the first and again — during a three-point run — to tie the match at 24.
A Clerkley kill, courtesy of a timely Ragan Ward assist, another Lady Bronco hitting an error and a set-ending ace by Stoops earned Waxahachie the victory.
The Lady Indians allowed 18 points during the second set. Using slick dumps by Stoops to catch defenders unaware, dead-eye aces by junior libero Alli Wells and senior defensive specialist Sara Sims and kills by junior outside hitters Macie Milholen and Anna Rodgers, as well as sophomore outside hitter Courtney Crownover, to score points in bunches, Waxahachie took a 22-17 advantage.
Back-to-back kills by Clerkley and Milholen closed the match 25-18 and sent Waxahachie into the gold bracket championship round and an end-of-day meeting with Midland High School's Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Indians remained undefeated in pool play after defeating Midland 25-22 and 25-21 in two sets.
TOUGHER COMPETITION, CHAMPIONSHIP ROUNDS
Waxahachie and its UIL 5A volleyball program rolled into the championship rounds. The Lady Indians were one of the only other in the classification — outside of Birdville and Mansfield Lake Ridge High Schools — among the 10 teams still in the tournament's top bracket.
Their competition — and subsequent losses against — came in the form of two teams boasting 13 seniors and 18 total upperclassmen between them.
Denton Guyer, the team with the heavier number of senior talent, powered to a 4-0 advantage, only to watch the lead shrink and then disappear behind the resiliency and patience of Faussett's offense.
An ace from Wells and kills from Crownover, Milholen, and Rodgers helped the Lady Indians rebound and pushed the points needle to 16-11. The Lady Wildcats, however, rallied to retake the lead and earn a 25-22 first-set win.
The match's second set provided no less drama as the score swung from 18-9 in Waxahachie's favor to a 23-22 late Denton Guyer advantage. The Lady Wildcats rallied to score eight straight points — courtesy of back-to-back-to-back stuff blocks — to take the lead late in the second set.
Denton Guyer, after three precise shots through the heart of the Indian defense and despite consecutive kills by Clerkley and Stoops, won the final set 29-27.
Against Midland Lee, the Lady Indians faltered early and fell into an early deficit. With the help of kills from Clerkley, Stoops, and sophomore outside hitter Lacy Mott, Waxahachie kept the score within four points. Aces by Stoops — book ends of a Midland Lee time out — helped close the gap to three.
The Lady Rebels took the first set 25-20 and the second 28-26 after whittling down a nine-point Waxahachie lead and surging to score seven points in a row.
While Wells (100) finished as the three-day tournament's digs leader, Clerkley (40), Stoops (40) and Milholen (36) earned the highest number of kills. Stoops also landed 26 serving aces in eight games (3.25 per match) and reached the century mark in assists. She was followed by Ward (67 assists).
With the help of Wells (2.28), Whitehead (2.19) and Rodgers (1.96) the Lady Indians earned a pass receive ratio average of 1.93. A ratio of 3.00 is considered perfect in volleyball.
Waxahachie will face the District 15-5A Lady Pirates at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mesquite Poteet High School in non-district play before traveling to Trophy Club to participate in Thursday's three-day Northwest Classic.
"I'm very proud of our kids for the way they competed this first week of competition," Faussett said after the match. "We have a lot to work on but we also saw a lot of good things and will be focusing our efforts to make improvements in those areas that we struggled with when we played the better teams."