WACO — It was not how he wanted the season to end, but he was happy with how it finished.
In his third year as head coach, William De Gracia guided Ellison back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and while the Lady Eagles’ stay was brief, he expects the experience will carry on.
Ellison fell in straight sets, 25-14, 25-15, 25-17, Tuesday evening to the District 7-5A champions at Midway High School, but despite a slow start, the Lady Eagles’ third-set surge left De Gracia anticipating big things in the coming years.
“They fought,” he said of his players. “They didn’t fold, turn around and throw their hands up. They fought, and it is awesome. ... Right now, they are soaking up the fact they didn’t win, because we had a chance to win. (Mansfield’s) kids are the same caliber as us, but they just made fewer mistakes than we did, but we’re excited (about the future).
“They got a little taste of us, and we’re going to give them a little bit more (next year). It’s going to be good.”
With only two seniors on the 2013 roster, Ellison (20-15) will return the bulk of its players, including Bri’anna Gray, who finished with a team-high eight kills.
“We didn’t give up,” the junior said, “we just couldn’t take it from them. But this was huge because it had been five years, so to be the first team, you want to go out there and do well, but at least we made it. We know what it feels like to be here now, so, hopefully, we will make it again and go further.”
The Lady Tigers (28-11) were rarely contested in the first two sets as they used lengthy scoring runs to take control in each set.
Trailing 6-5 in the opening set, things quickly got out of hand for Ellison as Mansfield, which advances to face No. 16 Flower Mound in the area round, scored nine consecutive points to build a 10-point advantage, 15-5, before increasing the gap to 22-9.
The second set followed the same pattern as the Lady Tigers’ 11-3 outburst broke an 8-8 tie, and Ellison never got closer than five points, 20-15.
With their backs against the wall, however, the Lady Eagles’ fight began to emerge.
“It just got closer and closer,” Gray said. “It only takes three sets to win a volleyball game, and the pressure was on.”
After losing five of the first six points in the third set, Ellison started clawing its way back, receiving several key plays from Gray, including consecutive kills to tie the score a 12-12. Mansfield responded by opening a three-point gap at 17-14 before ending the Lady Eagles’ season with an 8-2 match-clinching run.
Alysia Espada finished with four kills to complement Gray’s offensive performance, while Amanda Glover and Bryanna Sanchez produced 11 and seven digs, respectively.
Although the loss stings, De Gracia does not expect the pain to linger.
“I want to take two weeks off (before starting to prepare for next season),” he said, “but I don’t know how long they are going to give me. They’ll probably say, ‘Coach, lets go.’ And I’m hoping they do that because that would say they’re hungry because they know what they can do, and they want to get better.”
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com