GATESVILLE — Gatesville earned the victory, but not the way it wanted.
In their nondistrict finale against Hillsboro, the Hornets struggled early to find their rhythm, causing head coach Rickey Phillips to pull most of his starters to begin the second set.
Eventually, with significant contributions from its bench, No. 6 Gatesville regained its form to win 25-17, 25-10, 25-12.
While the victory allows the Hornets to enter District 8-3A play on a high note, Phillips believes the extended minutes given to some of his more inexperienced players is the silver lining produced from his team’s stormy start.
“(Substitutes) were in there, all of a sudden, at the beginning of the game, when it is not 17-5 or 18-4, and they were having to make plays early and when the game was on the line,” the coach said. “I think that is a big deal.
“We can’t just be a team of six. Anytime you go in that game, you’ve got to be a contributor, not just fill a spot. These guys getting some playing experience in a game like this will help us in those 10 district games. Some of our young kids that got to play quit a bit tonight, did some good things; some things we’ve seen in practice, we just haven’t seen in a game because they usually don’t have that opportunity.”
After closing the first set on a 8-3 run, Gatesville held a four-point advantage, 10-6, in the second set until outside hitter Hall rotated into the serving role, leading the Hornets on a 11-0 run.
Then, in the final set, the Hornets posted the first six points before claiming a 12-4 advantage as middle blocker Kayla McGiboney recorded two kills in a three-point stretch. Moments later, Brianna Poe served up three consecutive points to give Gatesville a 18-7 lead, and McGiboney, who finished with seven kills, helped secure the match with a pair of late kills, including the match winner.
The underclassmen’s performances were not surprising to seniors Megan Chambers and Ashley Cook.
“They may not always get the spotlight, but they sync in with us really, really well,” Chambers said. “If coach Phillips brings one on the floor, they always fit right in, and they are talking.”
“They are our opposing team in practice everyday,” Cook added. “So, we know they are prepared.”
Along with providing younger players some time on the court, the slow start to the match served as a lesson to the veterans as well, bringing attention to the importance of approaching every game with intensity and focus.
“That senior group, you don’t have to tell them very much because as upset as I might have been about the way they played, they were equally (frustrated),” Phillips said. “And I knew it, but they are the guys on the floor, and they had to fix it, and they did.”
Cook finished with a team-high 17 kills to go with a pair of blocks, while Lauren Nichols posted nine kills and four aces. Senior setter Paige Chambers contributed 23 assists and sister Megan had nine digs.
The Hornets hope to avoid a similar start against Liberty Hill, an honorable mention in the current Texas Girls Coaches Association’s Class 3A poll, Friday in the district opener.
“(The Lady Panthers) present a great challenge,” Phillips said. “We think they are one of the teams to beat in that district, no doubt. They’ve got a great program, they have for years, and they’ve got great size. They are going to present some problems for us that we’ve got to get around.”