SALADO — This wasn’t the Lady Eagles of old — on either side of the net.
With a killer instinct rarely seen during several down years, the Ellison volleyball team took advantage of a nervous and mistake-ridden Salado in their season-opener with a 25-13, 25-14, 26-24 victory — its eighth straight — Tuesday.
“We know what it’s like to lose and we don’t want that feeling any more, so we have to go after it — hard,” said junior setter Asia Howard, who helped Ellison (8-3) dominate the net with seven kills and 12 assists.
Fellow junior Alysia Espada led the Ellison charge with eight kills, four of which came during a 7-2 run to close out an error-filled Game 1 by Salado.
“Whenever we get down, we actually start to pick it up, because we’re not the typical (Ellison) team any more when teams (build momentum) we give up,” Espada said.
Because this time, it was Ellison that was able to build momentum as Salado mistakes quickly turned into a string of points, including three during Ellison’s 5-0 start to Game 1.
“It’s like I tell the girls, you can’t make mistakes against a good team and now we’re a pretty decent team and we take advantage of that,” Ellison coach William De Gracia said.
Ellison’s early advantage quickly ballooned to 11-2 before the end of its second rotation as Howard put down a pair of devastating kills, the second off a quick return by Salado senior Shyenne Hicks, before a service error by Hannah Zly ended a string of six straight points.
“I definitely think we weren’t mentally prepared, I think we were definitely nervous, the whole moment definitely got to us,” said first-year Salado head coach Tara Hatfield. “And it took us a long time to settle down, at least until middle of the second game, and that’s not going to win you matches”
Salado pulled within 12-8 following four consecutive Ellison errors but then gave those points right back with back-to-back attack errors and a rotation error the visitors pulled ahead 21-11 with a 9-3 run before Espada found her way to the front line.
In all, Salado committed 37 total unforced errors, including 12 in Game 1 and 13 in Game 2. Salado’s first-match struggles included 17 hitting errors, as players either wildly drilled the ball into the net or out of bounds with some regularity.
“The unforced errors were absolutely ridiculous, there were too many of those,” Hatfield said. “We have to eliminate those and focus on earning points.”
Hicks led Salado (0-1) with six kills but also committed a team-high seven errors, junior Taylor Atwood also had six kills and Meagan Hill had a team-high 18 assists.
Ellison junior libero Amanda Glover added 10 digs, junior middle blocker Brianna Gray had five stuff blocks and junior setter Miranda Tapia had 17 assists.
The second game was a lot closer, at least early, as Ellison didn’t build more than a five-point advantage until a string of five errors over six serves morphed a 14-11 deficit to 19-12 to spark an 11-4 closing run.
Salado didn’t build its first lead until Game 3 when it was three consecutive Ellison errors game the hosts a 3-0 lead. Then both teams battled through four ties before four straight Salado errors led to six consecutive points for a 12-8 Ellison lead.
Salado pulled even five more times, including at 24-24 on an Ellison attack error after Hicks nailed a cross-court kill and Ellison’s Kaylai Lewis pushed a point just inside the back row. But after Salado’s 37th unforced error on an out-of-bounds shot, Gray stuffed Victoria Moseley to complete the sweep.
“The good thing is, we want to win, we’re not scared of winning, we’re not scared of making mistakes,” De Gracia said. “And one thing I talk to them a lot about, we need confidence — make that mistake with confidence, don’t make a mistake by being scared. Because you can come back from mistakes when you have confidence.”