When either Taylor Stoops or Kamryn Owen sends the volleyball over the net to start the match between Waxahachie and Midlothian High Schools at 5:30 p.m. Friday night at MHS Arena, it won't be just a county clash.
The mathematics of whether or not Waxahachie sweeps or Midlothian ties the season series could solve the equation of who sits atop the district at season's end.
One of the most important aspects of where her Lady Indians fall in the standings, said Head Coach Sandy Faussett, is consistency during every match and set they play.
"I was pleased with how they played Tuesday and I've been really, really pleased with our practices [this week]," she continued. "I feel like we're making some improvements into our offense but we need to see it carry over. We looked a little nervous during the first set against Mansfield Lake Ridge (High School) — which is uncharacteristic of the way we play and this team. They knew the importance of this game, but needed only relax and focus on each point. The outcome will kind of take care of itself."
With Midlothian's win against Lancaster and Lake Ridge's loss to the Lady Indians, Tuesday's results put the two Ellis County cities on a collision course for a Friday battle between District 10-5A's No. 1 and No. 2 teams. Tuesday also marked a return to Faussett's staple of precision and uncanny court awareness. Against the Lady Eagles, Waxahachie forced Lake Ridge to rotate into uncomfortable and disadvantageous game situations, as well as more than 30 unforced errors.
Unforced errors, which can come in the form of serving an unreturnable ball, committing a hitting error or erroring on a serve receive, accounts for points every time one is logged. During four sets, the Lady Indians received more than 30 points — approximately 33 percent of their 97 points scored — on Lady Eagle mistakes.
It was also a more than 25 percent increase from the two teams' meeting on Sept. 9. Waxahachie won that match in three straight sets, 25-12, 25-23 and 25-18.
The Red Oak Lady Hawks, too, tie the two teams after losing to one 3-1 (Waxahachie) and beating the other 3-2 (Midlothian). By Monday — with Midlothian and Red Oak wins — Ellis County could own the top three positions in girls volleyball District 10-5A.
Though Head Coach Mary Malone and the Lady Panthers — who also beat Lake Ridge in four sets during their Sept. 20 matchup — are wary of Waxahachie's weapon of using a team's mistakes against it, Malone said she and Midlothian are more focused on meeting their specific criteria of winning.
"There was a lot that created the loss to Red Oak (High School)," she said about a game she felt slipped through her players' fingers. "Red Oak played well. In all of the scouting we did, I hadn't heard about them playing that well, so they were ready to play. That's the expectation of any team. My girls were not.
"We didn't play a smart game and were satisfied with just getting it away from us. That's not who we are or the way we play. We are methodical and use strategy. We had our own personal stipulations going into the game — no unforced errors and capitalizing on free balls — and they didn't meet them [against Red Oak]."
She said that loss, though difficult to swallow, may have been necessary, noting that it was better it came at the end of the district than the end of the season.
"It was a combination of the beginning of our district being tougher and almost skating through last part. They were a little bit lazy and expectant and they had to learn a lesson. We win together and lose together, but it was a lesson we had to learn. They've ben working to fix those issues, but there's no way to tell until game time Friday."
Friday, the eyes of Stoops and Owen will lock as well of those of Audrey Nalls and Sydney Little and Hannah Ramirez and Emmalee Lowe, but there is much more to the match than a mere rivalry.
For Midlothian, Friday night is dually edged. It is a way to test if Friday's lesson and the lesson during the first match against the Lady Indians was learned. In the eyes of Faussett and her staff and team, however, there is no more important game for them to prove they are a step closer to being playoff ready.
"Considering the district standings and where we're at, it's a very important game for us," she said. "With a win it would put us at least three games ahead of every other team in the district. That would be a nice to be, you know? It would be a big win for us against a known rival and a great team in their house. It's always to play there just like it is when they come to us. That's what good teams do, though. They win when they are put into difficult situations."