HARKER HEIGHTS — The trap was set and everyone knew it.
In the midst of one of its best-ever seasons, No. 20 Harker Heights could have fallen victim to Ellison’s subterfuge.
But instead of being tripped up by the trap door, the Lady Knights volleyball team slammed it shut and continued its run unabated with a 25-15, 25-13, 25-22 home sweep of the rival Lady Eagles on Tuesday.
“We had it, it’s good. We’re not going to let anybody come in our house and beat us,” said senior outside hitter Shantraie Rodriguez.
Added senior setter Katie Schulte: “There was pressure, because of the rivalry, but pressure just makes us work harder.”
Having not dropped a single set through the first week and a half of District 8-5A play, the Lady Knights (28-3, 4-0) found themselves pushed to the limit, trailing Ellison 22-21 late in Game 3. Yet no one on Heights’ side of the court was phased.
With a pair of devastating set-kills from the senior combination of Schulte and Anjane Janda sandwiched around an ace from senior Deysia Burden that deflected off the arm of Ellison’s Korti Taylor, the Lady Knights scored the final four points and closed out the sweep.
“It’s closing, we’re going to close,” Heights head coach Chris Wiley said.
While the Lady Knights’ offensive prowess has never been questioned, it was their front-line defense that proved to be the biggest difference as Rodriguez and Burden combined for eight of the Lady Knights’ 11 stuff blocks on the evening, adding five kills apiece.
“Nothing gets a team fired up like a block,” Wiley said. “You put a shut-down block on a hitter where it lands straight at their feet, that’s the ultimate form of intimidation in my opinion.”
Janda and Caitlyn Young led with eight and seven kills, respectively, while Janda’s 6-foot-2 sister Kathleen added five kills and three blocks and Schulte contributed 23 assists and a pair of kills.
Despite matching her 5-foot-2 stature against a Heights front row that averages 6-feet, Taylor led Ellison (13-13, 2-2) with 11 kills and four blocks while the 6-1 Kaitlyn Shearer managed just six kills and six blocks.
“When you have a 5-2 against two 6-footers, she’s suppose to be blocked,” Lady Eagles coach William De Gracia said. “If they don’t block, they’re not doing their job. ... But I told her, ‘Go through them,’ ... and my little one did her job.”
In a back-and-forth first game, Heights led 16-14 following an off-balance cross-body kill from Burden when Schulte rolled off seven straight points from the back row before Young closed it out with an ace following an attack error by Taylor for a 9-1 closing run.
“Our passing was amazing, I have to give it up to our back row, they picked up everything and then I could set it and the hitters could just put it down,” Schulte said.
Heights opened Game 2 much the same, starting with a 9-1 roll before closing out the 25-13 win scoring 8 of the final 11 points. After handling business in the first two games, Heights looked like it’d be an easy sweep as Schulte scored the first nine straight service points (9-0) thanks to seven Ellison errors.
But the Lady Eagles wouldn’t go that quietly as Malaysia Hope did Schulte one better with a 10-0 run to pull ahead on five Heights errors.
“I told my girls, when they were on point (with their passing) it was beautiful watching them play,” De Gracia said. “It was a ball game.”
From there, it was a battle of wills as neither team could pull more than two points ahead with 10 ties over the next 20 serves before Ellison’s 5-foot-2 Taylor answered a stuff block by the 6-1 Burden with back-to-back kills and a 21-20 lead.
Of course, that would be the end of the Lady Eagles night as Heights locked the door.
“We are a defensive-based team, it’s all about defense with us, and if our defense isn’t working, that’s when we start struggling a little bit,” Wiley said. “Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often.”