By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - For three years, Harker Heights volleyball coach Chris Wiley has tried to build a legitimate playoff contender.
With the District 12-5A slate beginning Friday, he believes he's finally done it following a breezy 25-13, 25-13, 25-13 "tune-up" victory over an overmatched Waco team on Tuesday.
"It comes down to being able to do that. You've got to have those games where you can put the teams away you need to be putting away," Wiley said. "We've got to be the team that can come in week in and week out and put teams away, and that's what we've been working on."
The Lady Knights (10-6) get their shot to prove it when they travel to four-time defending district champ A&M Consolidated on Friday, taking on a team won that had won 46 consecutive 12-5A matches before falling to Copperas Cove on Sept. 29, 2010.
"I think we know we can do it, so we're really strong (in our belief) about it," Heights outside hitter Deysia Burden said of making the playoffs.
For Wiley, going up against the district's best will be the ultimate measuring stick.
"If we want to be a playoff team, you've got to go in there and be able to play with teams like that," Wiley said. "With the type of intensity that we played with tonight, I honestly believe we can walk in there and take one."
On Tuesday, though, Heights had no problem dispatching a Lady Lions squad that squandered 38 errors. Not the Lady Knights needed any help scoring.
Following a service error to start Game 1, the Lady Knights were in control from then on as Katie Schulte served up three aces during a 5-0 run and built up an 11-3 advantage following a set-kill from Schulte to Shantraie Rodriguez. Heights pulled ahead by double-digit points, 20-9, on a powerful kill by Anjane Janda and then closed out the game on a perfectly-timed set-kill from Ashlyn Osborne to Jordan Denney that split two Waco defenders.
"When you have kills like that, it's always great, but it's nice having the athletes who can get it done," Wiley said. "We've got a great assortment of hitters this year, something we haven't had as much as in the past."
After Waco opened Game 2 with a 3-0 lead, courtesy of three consecutive Heights errors, the Lady Knights scored the next nine straight and 12 of 14 and never relented.
Game 3, though, after scoring the first four points, Heights squandered the lead with four consecutive attack errors - all long - that tied it at 5-5 before Waco's Taylor Dean scored back-to-back kills for a 7-5 advantage.
The Lady Knights had enough, as Caitlyn Young drilled a kill from the back row, Starnisha Bodie followed with a stuff block and the Lady Knights scored 11 of the next 14 points, capped with three straight set-kills from Schulte to Rodriguez, Burden and Anjane Janda for an 18-10 lead.
Blake Flipp followed with 18 digs, while Janda had 10 digs, six kills and two blocks, and Schulte led with 14 assists and two aces.
"I think we knew we were the better team and we needed to come back strong," said Burden, who led the way with eight kills - including five in Game 3 - and three blocks. "We needed to get out there and just do what we had to do."