MIDLOTHIAN — It may have only been a playoff warm-up game, but Ellis County received the gift of a volleyball classic Friday afternoon when the Maypearl Lady Panthers and Midlothian Heritage Lady Jaguars faced off at Midlothian Heritage High School Gymnasium for the first time in either school’s history.
Maypearl won 25-17, 14-25, 25-20 and 25-23 in a tough four-set, non-district showdown.
The Maypearl Lady Panthers entered the game 28-9 in district 12-3A and had not lost a set in their last two matches while Heritage’s Lady Jags, currently third place in district 7-4A, were 24-10 and winners of three of their last four matches.
Maypearl possibly faced its toughest opponent to date, a team from a larger district that had the advantage of height, but that was not lost on Maypearl head coach Jim Wood.
“That’s the kind of match we needed going into the playoffs,” Wood said “I knew they’d be good. They’re very young, but they’re very well coached and have good fundamentals.”
Mistake management is a cornerstone of how Maypearl built its winning season, Wood said. Controlling their mistakes, not making a lot of unforced errors and trying to put their opposition into uncomfortable positions that forces mistakes are important factors to the Lady Panthers’ winning equation, he said.
Senior Lady Panther captain Carsyn Ward spoke about combatting Heritage’s twin tower middle blocker tandem of freshmen 6-foot, 1-inch Karena Tipton and 6-foot Julia Goerig.
“It really helps us go into the playoffs with more confidence, knowing they can play up to that ability,” Ward said. “We know that even if we have some of our stronger players out, we can still match up with bigger teams. Even after losing the second set, we never really got down on ourselves. It made us rearrange and rethink what we were doing, but we picked ourselves right back up and won the rest of the game.”
The Lady Panthers were without the skills of senior Madison Mathers and sophomore Katie Gann. Mathers is a key player in Wood’s rotation and Gann is second on the season’s leader board in aces, third in blocks and fourth in kills and digs.
“It’s a learning loss,” Midlothan Heritage Lady Jaguar coach Sarah Hallum said. “This match emphasized the importance of winning set No. 1. When you don’t win set one and you take it slow and easy, you get yourself in a bind.”
Ward’s 27 digs and eight assists, as well as junior outside hitter Kennedy Thorne’s 11-dig, 17-kill double-double, helped the Lady Panthers close Midlothian Heritage in the final two sets, sealing their 18th straight win.
Ward said their focus is on Millsap High School, which they play in the bi-district playoffs at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Benbrook High School Gymnasium, and their goal is to go deep in the playoffs.
Wood said the lessons learned against Heritage weren’t lost. They were lessons that will help them evolve as a well-rounded team and a legitimate championship contender, he said.
“I learned some of the girls that came off the bench and stepped up and played when we needed them to play can be real benefits during the playoff run,” Wood said. “I thought our serving was good tonight, which is a big part of our game, and I saw a lot of good things going into the playoffs.”
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