The Ellison spikers have grown up a lot this season, and they had to.
The Lady Eagles only have three seniors — Natalie Rojas, Melissa Ruiz and Tori Urbas — on their roster to accompany six juniors and four sophomores. So they had to scratch and claw for victories throughout the year, especially in District 8-6A play.
But they matured.
The Green and White ended up giving themselves a chance to battle in a tiebreaker with Belton on Friday at Shoemaker High School for the league’s No. 4 seed, and they cashed in on that opportunity with a 25-13, 24-26, 26-24, 25-17 win to clinch a postseason berth.
Ellison had to face many difficult opponents throughout the season, especially during league play. But head coach Sarah Stolley felt the team defeated its biggest foe Friday night — and it wasn’t on the other side of the net.
“This season, district-wide, was just a roller coaster,” Stolley said Saturday. “It was a tight district race in the first and second round, and it was a lot of even talent. But I think the biggest opponent we had all season was ourselves.
“I feel like the girls that I am blessed to coach have unbelievable athletic ability, and we have faced adversity and a lot of highs and lows as far as mental toughness goes. But what I took from last night is that will not be a problem anymore.
“That is a great feeling to have going into the first round of the playoffs.”
Stolley’s statement was not a knock against Belton. She has a lot of respect for the Lady Tigers and their head coach, Krystal Brodbeck.
But Stolley knows what her team is capable of when they can get over that mental hurdle. Proof of such occurred in Set 3 against Belton on Friday.
The Lady Tigers scratched and clawed their way to a win in the second set to tie the match at 1, and the two teams battled for the entirety of Set 3 when, up 24-23, Ruiz missed a serve for the Lady Eagles to tie it up at 24.
Stolley knew what was coming next.
After her serving mistake, Belton immediately tested Ruiz by sending the subsequent serve right at her, but the senior calmly passed the ball to the front row and helped set up a kill for Ellison. The Lady Eagles then scored the very next point for a 2-1 match advantage.
“She exemplified everything I’ve been talking about when it comes to mental toughness,” Stolley said of Ruiz. “It’s not about the last ball, it’s about the next ball. She passed that ball beautifully; it was an in-system pass, and we were able to take care of it offensively.”
Ellison took care of many of its opportunities at the net against Belton.
Sophomore Semira Fields led the Lady Eagles on the front row with 10 kills and two blocks, followed by junior Symone Thomas with nine kills and five blocks. Junior Elicia Barcinas registered six kills, and fellow junior Shauntia Landrum tallied five kills and four blocks.
The Lady Eagles’ two setters were smooth in transitioning passes into kills. Junior Samantha Robinson dished out 22 assists to go along with her four service aces, and sophomore Jakarta Hope recorded 18 assists.
On the back row, sophomore libero Jaraysia Hope had 27 digs, while Ruiz chipped in with 11 of her own.
All in all, it was a complete team victory, something Stolley had been waiting all year for. She hopes to see the same thing in the bi-district round of the postseason.
The Lady Eagles (20-16) will face District 7-6A champion South Grand Prairie (26-9) on Tuesday in Hillsboro at either 6 or 7 p.m. Time of first serve will officially be decided Monday.
“I know South Grand Prairie is going to be a tough matchup,” Stolley said. “But I know these girls are going to be able to handle it because of what they showed me for the first time — at the right time — last night.”
AREA PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
- Copperas Cove vs. DeSoto, 6:30 p.m. at Waco HS
- Killeen vs. Duncanville, 7 p.m. at West
- Salado vs. La Grange, 7 p.m. at Cameron Yoe HS
- Gatesville vs. Madisonville, 7 p.m. at Cameron Yoe HS
- Ellison vs. South Grand Prairie, 6 or 7 p.m. at Hillsboro