HARKER HEIGHTS — There’s no wilt in these Lady Knights.
The Harker Heights volleyball team often crumbled when things didn’t go their way a year ago.
But it didn’t show any stress when facing their first real challenge Tuesday night against state-ranked 3A power Liberty Hill.
Trailing 23-22 in Game 3 after senior Deysia Burden was called for a phantom deflection, the Lady Knights came out of their first timeout with the same upbeat attitude that saw them dancing between games.
As a result, they defeated the Lady Panthers 25-19, 25-18, 25-23.
“When a team challenges us, that’s when we know we’ve got to pick it up, but there really hasn’t been a team that’s really challenged us yet,” said Heights senior setter Katie Schulte. “But there will be teams and we’re ready to take them on.”
After a kill by Burden tied it at 23-23, fellow 6-foot teammate Anjane Janda sent a kill through the block of Lady Panthers middle blocker Jaycie Pluenneke to take it to match-point, 24-23.
Following back-to-back point-saving diving digs from senior libero Jordan Denney, Burden came through once again, this time on defense, stuffing Pluenneke at the net to complete a three-game sweep in their final warmup game before District 8-5A play begins Friday.
“We fight for every single point, even if we’re behind by two or three points, we know that we have to get it back and we’ve got to put the ball down so that we can win the game,” said Schulte, who finished with 26 assists and four kills.
While unforced errors plagued Harker Heights (24-3) last season with relatively the same lineup, this year’s team hasn’t been in much of a giving mood this season.
“We’re not here to give Christmas gifts to anybody,” said Heights coach Chris Wiley. “We’re here to win volleyball games and if you’re going to beat us, our mind set is you’re going to have to come out and win points against us because we’re not going to give them to you.”
Biggest among Schulte’s offensive shots was a backwards tip late in Game 3 when she caught the entire Liberty Hill defense off guard with a flick of her wrist, sending the ball sailing over her right shoulder and into an empty top-left corner of the court for a 21-20 lead.
“The points before that I watched to see where was open, so after I’d set my hitter, I’d turn around what’s open,” Schulte said. “So I (just think), ‘OK, this is what I got to do’ and I take it.”
The Lady Knights were led offensively by six-footers Janda, who had a team-high nine kills, and Burden, who added eight of her own.
But it was several of Heights’ not-so vertically blessed teammates that might have made the biggest impact.
Five-foot-4 senior Blake Filip made her mark from the service line, helping the Lady Knights to an early 8-2 lead in Game 1 with five straight points.
“To me, I don’t really practice it, (serving) just comes naturally to me because I play softball too,” Filip said. “My first time serving (in the seventh grade), everybody was just like, ‘Oh my God, she serves and she’s so little,’ I was tiny.”
After Liberty Hill came back to take 15-14 lead, it was Filip’s serving that put Heights back on top with four consecutive points in her next rotation at the line.
In Game 2, the Lady Knights pulled away on five straight service points from Caitlyn Young following back-to-back Lady Panthers hitting errors, turning 12-10 into 17-10.
“That’s probably the biggest difference in this team, it’s not an individual, it’s a team,” Wiley said.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566