COPPERAS COVE — Copperas Cove beat district rival Midway on Tuesday, but the Lady Bulldawgs won the match long before 8-5A play began.
Despite building commanding leads in each set, nothing came easy for the Lady Bulldawgs as the Pantherettes made repeated runs to keep things interesting. In the end, however, Copperas Cove made plays at critical times to win in straight sets, and Lady Bulldawgs head coach Cari Lowery attributes a tough predistrict schedule for the victory.
“We’ve played the toughest schedule since I’ve been here,” said Lowery, who took over the program in 2004. “(We’ve faced) some really, really stellar teams. We’ve beaten a lot of them and lost to a couple of them, but that only made us better.
“What we did in preseason, prior to district, helped us win this game right here because we played those playoff (caliber) and state-ranked teams that don’t lay down or give up just because we are Copperas Cove or because we get ahead of them.”
Regardless of the score, the Pantherettes refused to go away Tuesday evening, finishing each set with a last-gasp rally before losing 25-23, 25-20, 25-22
The Lady Bulldawgs opened the match by scoring six unanswered points, but Midway rallied, making the score 8-6 a few minutes later. Copperas Cove extended its lead back to six points at 17-11, but the Pantherettes knotted things up at 18-18 before falling behind 23-19 only to come back once again, forcing a 23-23 tie.
Defending district MVP Qiana Canete delivered a timely kill to snap the tie, though, and Midway junior Allison Jones’ hitting error clinched the first-set win for Copperas Cove.
With Canete, who posted a team-high 22 kills, leading the way, the Lady Bulldawgs immediately constructed another large lead, using a 14-5 run to go ahead 17-9.
But once again, it was not enough.
The Pantherettes methodically chipped away until trimming the deficit to three points, 23-20, forcing Copperas Cove to call timeout. Following the break, Canete hit another momentum-swinging kill before sophomore Katy Ranes set up the clinching kill to outside hitter Destinee Branch. Ranes finished with 11 assists, while teammate Mikayla Blount had 26 to go with two blocks.
“I thought we played a little nervous,” Lowery said, “but we handled it pretty well. We knew that would be a big game, and Midway is head and shoulders taller than we are, so we had to work around that.”
Copperas Cove (27-6, 2-0) won seven of the first eight points in the third set, but the Pantherettes pulled within two points at 17-15. Thee kills from Canete helped the Lady Bulldawgs re-establish a five-point lead, 22-17, and senior middle blocker Bryaunea Hall, who finished with 11 kills, recorded Copperas Cove’s final three points to secure the win, but not before the Pantherettes thwarted two match points.
Although Midway (11-20, 1-1) is a decorated program, Copperas Cove established itself as the district’s elite team last season by going undefeated en route to the 8-5A championship, making the Lady Bulldawgs a target for the remainder of the regular season in the process.
“Everybody in district wants to beat us, so we’ve got to play our best every time we step out on the court,” Lowery said. “But that is what you coach for — to get to a level where people know they have to play their best when they come to play you. That is what we’ve been working toward, and I hope that is where we are at.”