WACO — Cari Lowery could feel it coming.
No. 21 Copperas Cove’s head coach knew there was no way things would remain as easy, and she was right.
After dominating Duncanville in the first two sets, including a second-set run that saw the Lady Bulldawgs win 18 of the final 21 points, Copperas Cove found itself battling to avoid going into a fourth set. While the Lady Bulldawgs held on to earn a straight-sets victory, Lowery was not at all surprised to see her players suddenly challenged late.
“When you can completely control and dominate a game like (we did in the second set), that always happens in the next game,” she said. “It just does, because they’re teenagers. … I told the kids that if we jump out on them, they’ll fall apart, but if you give them any leeway at all, they are going to play off emotion, and they’re going to play out of their minds.”
Despite a minor scare, the Lady Bulldawgs survived, beating Duncanville 25-11, 25-7, 25-20 to advance into the area round, where they will face No. 12 Lewisville Hebron either Thursday, Friday or Saturday in an early clash of state-ranked teams.
If anything, Tuesday evening’s third set should prepare Copperas Cove for the intensity it will encounter in the upcoming round.
Playing at Midway High School, the Lady Bulldawgs were never challenged in either of the first two sets.
Copperas Cove broke a 3-3 tie in the opening set by allowing the Lady Panthers to score consecutive points just once during the duration of the set, while using long rallies, including a 12-3 run, to cruise to victory.
The second set was even more one-sided as the Lady Bulldawgs (40-7) won at least five consecutive points on three different occasions to claim a 2-0 lead in the match.
It appeared the third set would be another lopsided affair as Copperas Cove built an immediate 9-2 lead before Lowery’s premonition began coming true.
The Lady Panthers (12-23) answered by winning eight of the next nine points to tie the set 10-10 and the teams went back and forth from there.
“In volleyball, it is all about momentum,” said Copperas Cove senior middle blocker Qiana Canete, who finished with team-higs of 15 kills and three blocks.
“When you lose it, it is really hard to get it back, so as a team, we all had to come together and play as a team.”
The squads exchanged a couple ties before Duncanville claimed a 15-12 lead before the Lady Bulldawgs scored three consecutive points, including Bryaunea Hall’s kill to tie the set at 15-15. Hall finished with 10 blocks.
Copperas Cove quickly trailed again at 17-15, but responded by winning 10 of the final 13 points to extend their season.
“They know. They are smart kids, and they know they are going to have to earn every point,” Lowery said of her players. “Nobody is just going to give them anything.”
Lexi Perez finished with 18 digs for the Lady Bulldawgs, while teammates Destiny Henderson and Lily Drever had two aces apiece.
Now, they Lady Bulldawgs’ turn their collective attention to area-round opponent Hebron (35-11). After losing to Flower Mound in the second round last season, Copperas Cove desperately wants to redeem itself with a lengthy postseason appearance.
“We’re going to practice hard,” said junior setter Mikayla Blount, who led Copperas Cove with 22 assists, “and get ready to go out and play our game. (Duncanville) was good competition, and we needed it to prepare for the next team.”