MESQUITE — Melissa volleyball history was made on Saturday as the Lady Cardinals stopped district rival Sanger in four sets to punch their ticket to state tournament for the first time after claiming the Class 4A Region II title at Mesquite Poteet.
Melissa (38-11) claimed the first two games comfortably by counts of 25-18 and 25-16. The Lady Indians answered with a 25-19 win but their charge was short-lived. Melissa bounced back for a 25-20 to clinch the victory.
The Lady Cardinals will play in a state semifinal match at either 7 p.m. on Thursday at 11 a.m. on Friday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. Needville, Decatur and Midlothian Heritage are the other qualifiers. The pairings and match times will be announced on Sunday.
This was the fourth meeting between the schools — after splitting the first two matches, the Lady Cards topped Sanger on in the District 11-4A first-place tiebreaker.
“You know, there’s a saying,” Melissa head coach Frank DePaolo said. “‘It’s hard to beat a three times in a year.’ I never said that [to the team]. I said to myself — I said it to all my friends. I didn’t say it to them. I never let that creep in. When it gets right down to it, it’s not any harder than the first time, except for the pressure you put on yourselves. I did say, ‘We know their weaknesses and let’s exploit them. We know our strengths against then and let’s put those to good use.’”
It was an emotional celebration that spilled onto the court shortly after Melissa’s Susan Blake fired an ace to close it out. Down that final stretch, two crucial kills by KG Matthews aided the Lady Cards’ push to 23-16.
Caroline Kasson and Blake again led a powerful Melissa attack — and they were again supported by assists from Charley Lane and Sophia Davis and a stout defense. Of the Lady Cards’ 47 kills, Blake slapped 18 while Kasson tallied 16. Lane piled up 20 assists and Davis collected 19.
Kasson led the team with 18 digs, followed closely by libero Chelsea George’s 16. Abbey Maldonado got up for a team-high four assist blocks. All told, Melissa fired 10 service aces with Kasson’s four and Blake’s three leading the way.
“Serve-receive — ours was better than theirs. And getting up two sets was a huge advantage, obviously,” DePaolo said. “We felt like we could triple-block No. 14 [Sydney Price] in serve receive. We only did it if there was a perfect pass to the circle.
“Now that we’ve won I’m glad that we lost the third set because it’s a reminder that you just can’t breeze through the playoffs. It’s going to be a fight.”
In that decisive fourth set, Melissa went up for good, 13-12, after fighting through four early ties. Real separation followed at 18-14 after kills from Davis and Kasson and a Kasson ace.
DePaolo called that series of volleys “a turning point.” Big swings from Kasson and Blake sent the Lady Cards’ lead to 20-15 and the die was cast.
This was Melissa’s third all-time appearance in the regional tournament and its second time to advance to the finals. The Lady Cards advanced with a 3-1 victory over Nevada Community on Friday night. Sanger advanced by stopping Farmersville in five games.
“Caroline and Susan are hard to stop,” Sanger head coach Scott Montgomery said. “We had fire here and there, but we had some moments where we just kind of got a little, I think, down. We just made too many mistakes.Not to take anything away from [Melissa]. They earned it today. They fought for it. They pushed harder than we did.”
In Friday semifinal, Melissa downed Community, 25-12, 18-25, 25-21, 25-18, in a match that gave the Lady Cards their first taste of adversity after they’d sailed through three playoff rounds without dropping a set.
“I can’t take anything away from Community. They fought extremely hard. I will say, in that second set I don’t know that they could do anything better and I don’t know that we could do anything worse,” DePaolo said. “According to my hitting chart, they had three attacks that weren’t kills. And one of them was out, so we basically dug two balls. That couldn’t go any worse. And we had three maybe four missed serves and a couple of missed hits. They hit everything, we didn’t hit anything.”
Kasson smacked 20 of the Lady Cards’ 46 kills in the victory with Blake getting up for 13 and Matthews and Lane adding five and four, respectively.
Melissa dug up 68 balls led by Kasson’s 18, Blake’s 17 and libero Chelsea George’s 11. Eight Melissa aces were spread equally among Lane, Fortenberry, Kasson and Davis.
Of the team’s eight assist-blocks, Lane led with three, Maldonado and Fortenberry posted two each and Kasson chipped in one. Davis logged a team-high 19 set-assists and Lane tallied 17.