WAXAHACHIE — To Sandy Faussett, consistency was the keyword during her Lady Indians' Tuesday 3-1 victory over Forney High School at George W. Solis Gymnasium.
Though Waxahachie High School defeated a four-loss Lady Jackrabbits team that reached the UIL 5A area round in 2016, the Lady Indian coach said it was a mixture of tough defense, uncharacteristic unforced errors and big-kill performances from key players.
"I felt like we walked across the net and it became our passing game and inconsistency with that. Anyone that watches volleyball knows that if you don't pass the ball well, your offense will be limited," Faussett said. "In two of the four games, five of their seven points came from unforced errors. We did some good things and other times we had a lot of unforced errors that we can't afford to have. It was a win, but it wasn't exactly a pretty one."
Waxahachie (17-10) cruised to an early 25-16 first-set advantage with help from senior Taylor Stoops' eight assists, junior Macie Milholen's four kills and a pair of aces by sophomores Lacy Mott and Ragan Ward.
Following opening salvos from Forney, the Lady Indians — sparked by consecutive kills by Milholen and Mott and block by Clerkley, — led a 12-point run to push the score to 13-3. The visitors, however, would rally.
After taking a one-point lead in the second, Forney rebounded and led 5- and 8-point charges to take the set 25-16 and tie Waxahachie in the middle of the match.
"We ended up running high outside sets and, as a result, got us blocked a lot," Faussett said. "For us to be an effective team the setter has to make one of three choices. [Against Forney] I felt we struggled to the extent we couldn't run our offense well."
Kills by Clerkley, Milholen, Mott and Stoops, as well as 10 of the Lady Jackrabbits' 23 unforced errors, helped Waxahachie win set three 25-20 and move it within a single victory of its second consecutive win in less than a week.
"Bottom line, you better have more kills than errors," Faussett continued. "If you keep pretty even with the other team, kills will be the determining factor. If you look down and you have 12 unforced errors and they have four, that's going to be the determining factor. Kills won't even come into play."
She added opposing teams earning points via kills — rather than from shanked passes, missed digs or communication issues — should be the mantra of her Lady Indians.
During the fourth set of the match, the Lady Indians trailed only once. They were powered early by back-to-back aces by Ward and late by points from multiple players.
Clerkley's high-rising final kill of the match from the middle of the net, over a pair of Lady Jackrabbit defenders, and courtesy of a Ward back set, quieted a late Forney rally and sealed the set 25-23.
"Essence did a great job tonight. She had 14 kills and a couple crucial blocks and did a really good job of not making unforced errors," Fausset said of her middle blocker. "She had 19 sets with only one hitting error. It was really nice seeing her step up, handle the pressure and score when we needed her."
She noted Mott's consistent hitting, the defense and serving of Sims and Ward, key kills by Milholen and Stoops that came during game-changing moments, and the growth and potential of junior outside hitter Courtney Crownover.
The Lady Indians will open their district schedule against Lancaster High School at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Solis Gymnasium.
Though she and her team swept the season series last year, Faussett cautioned against underestimating the raw physical talent of the Lady Tigers.
"They're extremely athletic," she said. "Lancaster's a program that's getting better and better every year. You can't count them out, especially the way volleyball's about long rallies and how long you can sustain them."
Though consistency along the offensive front, she said, will be key to combating active Lady Tiger outside hitters and middle blockers, the defense will help control the pace of the game and extend rallies that can transform a loss into a victory.
"For this team and the way we play, we count and rely on the backcourt — our defensive specialists and setters — to be solid," Faussett remarked. "I have high expectations for them and, for the most part, they meet them."
Mott led Waxahachie in kills with 14. She currently has 181 this season as the Lady Indians' top hitter.
Clerkley and Milholen's 14 and 9 respective slams against Forney weren't far behind. Wells (14), Ward (11) and senior Sara Sims (14) all posted double-digit digs and Stoops passed for 24 assists.
It was the WHS single-season assists record holder's fourth highest total of the season.
Through the first 25 matches in 2016, Stoops had 600 assists. Despite freelancing as an outside hitter in Faussett's 5-1 system because of an injury to junior District 10-5A MVP Audrey Nalls, she added her 408th assist on Tuesday,
Ward's 13-dig and 11-assist double-double was the seventh of her sophomore season.
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.