When the going gets tough, the Lady Indians get rougher.

Waxahachie welcomed Red Oak to a packed George W. Solis Gymnasium and handed the Lady Hawks a decisive loss during the first district game of the season Tuesday night.

The Lady Indians entered the game with a 10-5 record, riding high off of a recent championship tournament runner-up performance during the Byron Nelson tournament. They faced a 4-6 Red Oak team looking for revenge from last year’s 3-0 shutout loss. 

Red Oak came into Solis with a slight edge, having already played against Mansfield Timberview High School last weekend and beating the Wolves 3-0 in their first district game.

Despite the success of the Lady Indians during the Denton Ryan and Byron Nelson tournaments, district showdowns are the measuring stick the UIL uses to decide who sees the postseason and who waits on the sideline another year. 

The Waxahachie-Red Oak rivalry, irregardless of location, is usually a match that can have a distinctive playoff feel and implications. 

Tuesday was no different. The Indians fans made the match feel like the 5A state championship.

Lady Indians head coach Sandy Faussett said despite extensive preparation for their first district game, the season has been a whirlwind. 

“I can’t believe we’re playing a district game this early,” said Faussett. “It’s so hard in a nine-team district. It’s hard to play a game this early and feel like you’re prepared. The good thing is that they’ve had an equal amount of time to prepare.”

Both teams struggled early in the match, dropping the first two sets to each other. Missed assignments, timing and communication doomed head coach Hope Porter’s Lady Hawks during the 25-17 first set loss.

Unforced errors were the culprit throughout the match for the Lady Indians, but were most noticeable during the second set. Despite the closeness of the 17-25 second-set score,  the Lady Indians were dominated by Red Oak and hampered by mental mistakes.

While the Lady Hawks tightened up their mistakes and capitalized on the Lady Indians mistakes, their outside hitters picked apart Waxahachie’s defense.

Faussett said committing mental mistakes can be fatal against technical teams like Red Oak.

“They are very similar to us,” said Faussett. “They don’t use one hitter. They use multiple hitters to not be predictable. When they mix it up like that, it calls on everyone to do their job.

 “It’s what Red Oak does really, really well. They capitalize on your weaknesses. If they call a timeout and they’re not scoring off of hard hits, they will adjust and try to finesse shots. We talked to our team about not sitting down and expecting a certain shot. We made some unforced errors, but our communication was pretty good. Sometimes you get out of sync and, especially against a team like Red Oak, you can’t do that. They’ll match you point for point.” 

She also said they made minimal defensive adjustments and changes were more a matter of refocusing on their defensive fundamentals.

“We play a perimeter defense, which means the girls’ have two responsibilities — dig and run-through. And they have to be prepared for both,” said Faussett. “We told them to play good, disciplined volleyball and to go to a spot and wait and react.”

Powered by the defensive prowess and reckless abandon of Dominique Almaguer and the stonewall blocking of freshman Audrey Nalls (four blocks) and seniors Audrey Willet and Laurel Rominger (two  blocks each) the Lady Indians stifled Red Oak and roared back to win the third set 25-22.

Bad calls seemed to be an issue all night, frustrating both players and coaches on both sides. 

Despite the crowd’s reaction to the quality of the referee’s in-match decision making, Faussett defended the officials’ calls.

“There were a couple calls I didn’t agree with — I feel like we dug that ball they said was down — but for the most part I feel the officials did a good job,” said Faussett. “It was a high pressure match. I don’t think they had a huge effect on the outcome of the game. They don’t affect game outcomes much in volleyball. There’s one time in 27 years I feel like the officials impacted the outcome. Typically, we get good, seasoned officials that have been around [the game] for a while. They called a fair match.”

The fourth and final set was a dogfight, one where the score swayed back and forth and the Lady Indians had survived a furious 7-0 rally before slamming the door on the visiting Lady Hawks.

As the set continued, the Lady Indians became more patient while the Lady Hawks’ confident swagger unraveled. The Lady Indians ended the Lady Hawks hopes for a comeback and for a fifth set, winning 29-27, on clutch kills from Shelby Martin and Madelyn Ward (11 kills each).

The Lady Indians will travel to Arlington this weekend before going on the road to play district rival Mansfield Summit at 5:30 p.m. on Monday. 

Faussett gave credit to both the Red Oak and Mansfield Summit teams and said they welcome the weekend tournament.

“Our first two matches are tough,” said Faussett. “We played Red Oak here and we follow up with Summit next Tuesday. Summit is a very good team, too. No rest for the weary. 

We have to get after it. We do play a tournament this weekend and all that time on the court is going to help us. We’ll take Monday as a recovery day and be ready to roll.”