By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Grace Weaver's tears said it all.
"That felt so amazing," she said. "I was so relieved. I've been waiting for it and it finally came."
She didn't expect it, it just happened - that's the kind of week the Belton Lady Tigers have had to start the volleyball season.
But when Weaver's kill - her 21st of the match - fell in on Gatesville's side of the net, she ran toward her teammates. Belton had just knocked off the Hornets, beating the state's fourth-ranked Class 3A team in four games, 25-11, 17-25, 25-22, 25-23.
After both teams congratulated each other on the match, Weaver couldn't hold it in anymore.
It wasn't just the win - Belton's first this season - that brought the emotion out of Weaver. The Lady Tigers (1-6) lost their first six matches in an up-and-down, emotional fashion.
The night before against Round Rock Westwood, Belton won the first two games before losing the final three. The same happened last week at Salado to open the season.
Against Plano East over the weekend, Belton won the opening game, but lost the next two games.
"An emotional roller coaster," Weaver said of Belton's start. "It's been a struggle with our confidence because we know we can win, but we just have to execute."
Despite the win, the start had a definite here-we-go-again vibe for Belton. The Lady Tigers ran away with the opener before the Hornets (7-3) did the same in Game 2 to tie the match at 1-1.
"I know, I know," said Belton head coach Justeen Coulson about any sense of déjà vu. "But I knew that we were going to stay in control. I really did believe that they had the confidence the entire time, but they lost a little bit of that edge, that aggressiveness, that energy where they just go for everything."
Belton pulled away to take Game 3, setting up a dramatic ending.
The teams went back and forth as Gatesville went up 8-4 before Belton answered with three straight points. Another Lady Tiger run gave them a 12-11 lead, but Gatesville and Belton alternated the next six points.
Rebecca Marbach put away a loose ball, putting Belton up 16-14. Following a service error, Gatesville's Daija Ward served the Lady Hornets to five straight points (20-16). The junior aced her first serve, while Shelby Strange put down consecutive loose balls at the net.
Coulson called timeout, which put a stop to Gatesville's momentum. Ward's next serve went into the net and Belton cut it 20-18 on a second Lady Hornet error.
The Lady Tigers scored three more points - the third on another Gatesville error - to take the lead.
"We made too many unforced errors and mistakes all night long," Gatesville coach Rickey Phillips said. "You can't do that against anybody. (Belton) did a good job, but it wasn't so much what they did, it's what we did wrong."
Three more ties brought the score to 23-23. Gatesville's Paige Chambers then mishandled a set, giving Belton match point.
Weaver took a pass from setter Brooke Malick and put away the final point.
"They really felt that they could have that confidence and that belief in themselves," Coulson said. "We all have a good feeling from tonight that we're ready to go on and move forward with that confidence."
Contact Angel Verdejo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7564.