By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - With her team struggling to just four wins in its first 23 matches, including an 0-1 start to District 12-5A play, Belton coach Justeen Coulson turned to some outside motivation.
As the Lady Tigers gathered around her in the locker room, Coulson wrote out the local media's projected final district standings - with Belton finishing No. 7 of eight teams.
"You know, we want respect basically, and we have to earn it - you don't get respect for free - so I told them the biggest thing is demand respect, and the only way to do it is to prove yourself," Coulson said.
The Lady Tigers (5-19, 1-1) went a long way to earn that respect Tuesday when they dispatched upstart Shoemaker - the team predicted to finish fourth - with a 25-14, 25-19, 25-21 victory at Tiger Gym.
"That was my biggest thing I was preaching to them was, 'Stay positive, we're going to get better,'" Coulson said. "Preseason is called preseason for a reason - to get better. You're not suppose to look like a million bucks in the first couple of weeks of the season."
Taking advantage of the Lady Grey Wolves' receiving errors, as Belton tallied 16 aces in the match, the Lady Tigers turned a 4-3 lead in Game 1 into a 21-6 advantage.
Belton junior Savannah Frick reeled off three straight aces in a run of seven consecutive points to score on 18 of the next 21 serves.
"It's like a rollercoaster ride - just a lot of ups and downs," Shoemaker coach Merdith Shaw-Moore said. "... I think that's what killed us more than anything tonight, was basically our serve-receive, and not getting great back-row passes."
Trailing 23-9, Shoemaker (11-10, 0-2) mounted a five-point run on the serving of senior Kiara Rawls, but it was too little too late as sophomore Brieanne Brown slammed home a set by Maggie Kramer for match point.
For the Lady Grey Wolves, who went winless in 12-5A last year and had just one win in 2009, it was especially difficult to swallow another district disappointment after nearly doubling last season's win total before Friday's district opener.
"Unfortunately, you're always disappointed in a loss, but I think it's just we're going through growing pains," Shaw-Moore said. "I mean, we've got good and bad, and once we fix something, something else goes wrong."
That was certainly the case in the second game as Shoemaker battled through eight ties, the last of coming at 18-18, before sophomore Kaitlyn Dunahoo rattled off back-to-back aces and Belton scored seven of the next eight courtesy of four unforced errors by the Lady Grey Wolves.
"We just didn't have enough gas to pull it out," Shaw-Moore said.
Dunahoo led the Lady Tigers with 10 kills, nine digs and four blocks, while Brown also 10 kills and three aces.
Junior outside hitter Hailee Showers led Shoemaker with seven kills, while Ingrid Toro had six blocks and Rawls added eight assists.
Game 3 was more what Coulson has been looking for from her girls as Belton jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead and never relinquished it despite repeated runs by the Lady Grey Wolves, who never got closer than 17-16 before a service error and ace by Dunahoo sparked the Lady Tigers to the sweep.
"I'm proud of them because the hard work (in the preseason) is showing off now," Coulson said.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.