COPPERAS COVE — If there were any doubters, Gatesville believes it proved them wrong.
After losing a wealth of talent to graduation from a team with consecutive regional semifinal trips to its credit, an us-against-the-world mentality began to resonate within the current players, who dismiss any notion they cannot live up the lofty benchmarks set by their predecessors.
The Hornets believe they opened some eyes by defeating several larger schools, including the host team, to win the Copperas Cove tournament Saturday.
“People didn’t believe in us,” said middle blocker Ashley Cook. “To come up here and win the whole thing against big schools, that’s a big deal.”
Teammate Paige Chambers agreed.
“People didn’t think we would be able to do this, and we did,” the senior setter said.
Following an undefeated run through their pool, the Hornets beat three of the field’s six Class 4A or Class 5A teams, beginning Friday with a win against Georgetown East View and concluding Saturday with straight-set victories against Copperas Cove (25-14, 25-19) in the semifinals and Pflugerville Connally (26-24, 25-23) in the championship match.
Gatesville head coach Rickey Phillips never claimed his team’s performance would silence any critics, but he admitted he thought his players put together an impressive showing.
“We knew the best competition all weekend would be today, and it was,” Phillips said. “(Copperas Cove and Connally) are very athletic, and they present a lot of problems.
“I thought the kids handled both games pretty well. We try to keep things in perspective, play the way we can and not let (others) affect us too much.”
At no point was such mentality more evident than midway through the second set of the championship match, when Gatesville (8-0 overall) rallied from a double-digit deficit.
Using an 11-2 run, the Cougars built a 13-3 lead and appeared to be en route to a match-tying victory, but the Hornets won 22 of the next 32 points, including 10 consecutive on the back of a string of kills from Cook, to clinch the tournament title.
“I’m not sure what got the ball rolling, but, from my standpoint, we wanted it,” Chambers said. “I said, ‘We are not going to lose the game,’ and we just picked it up.”
Earlier in the day, the Hornets defeated the Lady Bulldawgs with relative ease thanks to an active defense that frustrated the host team, especially in the first set as Gatesville constructed a 19-7 advantage.
“We just dug a hole really quickly, and we just mentally stepped out of the game,” Copperas Cove head coach Cari Lowery said. “And we just didn’t recover.
“As they get more experienced and (gain) a little more volleyball maturity, they’ll be able to come back out of that.”
In the second set, the Lady Bulldawgs held a 14-12 lead, but lost control as Gatesville won 13 of the match’s next 18 points, including the final six, to advance to the championship round.
The loss sent Copperas Cove (6-2) into the third-place game against Plainview.
Despite falling into a funk against Gatesville, the Lady Bulldawgs responded, defeating Plainview 25-18, 25-15.
“We’ve got all the tools, we just have to work as a team,” Lowery said. “When we played Gatesville, it was very much like six people on the court playing six different ball games.There was no cohesiveness, no flow to the game, but, in that last game, there was cohesiveness, and we were in control the entire time.”
Along with teammate Cook, Gatesville senior Megan Chambers was named to the all-tournament team. Copperas Cove outside hitter Brittany Johnson was also placed on the all-tournament team.
Lady Badgers fall in Silver Division finals
Lampasas could not overcome a slow start against Austin Hyde Park, and it cost the Lady Badgers the Silver Division championship.
The Lady Badgers simply could not get on the same page as a number of players were forced out of their normal positions due to an absence, resulting in a poor performance early, according to Lampasas head coach Kecia Davis.
“It just took us too much time to kind of get going,” the coach said. “In the first set, we were a little tentative, and we had a whole lot of unforced errors, and then in the second set, we started to play”
But it was not enough to mount a comeback as Hyde Park won 25-16, 27-25 to claim the title.
The loss dropped the Lady Badgers’ overall record to 3-3, but Davis believes her relatively young and inexperienced team earned a moral victory it can build on by advancing to the championship round.
“To be the runner-up in our bracket is a huge accomplishment for these kids at such an early stage,” the coach said.
Senior outside hitter Shayna Perry was named to the all-tournament team.