The victories have been a little easier to come by this season for the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets, but sometimes an opponent gives more than just a token resistance.
In those situations, the response of a team which has already nearly doubled its win total from a year ago can display how much they have learned and what they are capable of.
Denison was hitting the home stretch of an up-and-down week. It won four of six matches at its tournament to claim the consolation title. Then it earned a sweep over Bells before losing all three matches in pool play at the Argyle Tournament on Thursday.
It was a quick turnaround for the Lady Jackets, and for the first game-and-a-half against Wichita Falls on Friday afternoon, it looked like the high volume of action was taking its toll.
But Denison responded after dropping the opener and came up clutch in the middle two games of a 15-25, 28-26, 25-20, 25-17 victory over the Lady Coyotes in non-district action.
“It says a lot of about these girls. They bounce back. They don’t quit,” Denison head coach Jana Kelly said. “They don’t panic when things go that way. They all stay focused and know what they have to do to get back in it.”
Taryn Gaines had 12 kills, 23 digs and four blocks, Ashlinn Hamilton put down eight kills, Elizabeth Linwood chipped in four kills, three blocks and six digs, Maddy Marr handed out 12 assists to go with nine digs, Kenzie Clark finished with 11 assists and 18 digs and Madison Chambless and Mykayla Guidry each added three kills for Denison (12-11), which plays at Denton Ryan on Tuesday night.
The match hinged on the Lady Jackets’ ability to pull out Game 2 after dropping the first set. Denison jumped to the early lead behind Gaines and Linwood before Wichita Falls pulled ahead at 12-11 and started to widen the gap. A 6-1 burst fueled by Lauren Trainer extended that advantage to 19-14 and the Lady Coyotes were on the brink of taking a 2-0 lead.
Linwood notched a kill and three Wichita Falls hitting errors trimmed the margin to one before Kayla Gerstner overpowered a pair of blocks to make it 22-19.
But just as quickly Denison earned three straight points and Chambless’ kill knotted the score. The teams traded points, the Lady Jackets fended off a pair of game points and then claimed the frame on back-to-back hitting errors by the Lady Coyotes.
Wichita Falls provided Denison a chance and the Lady Jackets were about to capitalize.
‘We’re keeping games close even when we’re not playing well,” Kelly said. “Each person brings their own gifts and talents and when we just put them all together we can do some really good things.”
The teams traded leads for much of the early stages in Game 3 and then Wichita Falls went ahead 12-11 and built a lead that peaked at 16-13.
Hamilton and Linwood led a 7-1 run that gave Denison a 19-17 advantage and put it in control of the pivotal stanza.
“Liz did a great job at the net blocking,” Kelly said.
Then it was Wichita Falls’ turn to rally and it did by taking a 20-19 lead. However, it was the last time they would lead on the night as Rylie Buttrill put down consecutive aces and Gaines had back-to-back kills to put the Lady Jackets on the verge of the win.
“Lots of hustle. That’s what we’ve talked about this year — just go,” Kelly said. “How do you know you can’t keep a ball alive if you don’t just go get it?”
Denison made the most out of the hustle plays. It opened Game 4 with three straight points and used a 5-1 run to double its advantage to 10-5. It was as close as Wichita Falls would get to forcing a deciding fifth game the Lady Jackets pushed their margin to 11 points at 17-9 and were able to cruise the rest of the way.
“Being able to close out Game 3 and go up 2-1 and then not allow them to get anything going to force a Game 5, I think a lot that is the maturity of the upperclassmen not wanting to give up an opportunity to close out a victory,” Kelly said.
Denison started the match well and was up 4-2 before the Lady Coyotes reeled off five straight points. Gaines and Guidry had consecutive kills as the Lady Jackets battled back to tie things up at 11.
From that point, Wichita Falls was in control the rest of the opening game. Denison struggled to get into rhythm and the Lady Coyotes went on a 5-1 spurt and then, when holding an 18-14 advantage, had a 7-0 run to put things out of reach.