POTTSBORO — There were moments when the Lady Cardinals were on cruise control and a sweep looked inevitable. There were times when they had to fight for a much-needed point and keep the match from turning against them.
It’s all part of the learning process for a program looking to jump up from its sixth-place finish in last year’s district standings and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“That kinda got us in trouble with Collinsville last week,” Pottsboro head coach Kailey Hayward said. “I’ve got some players that don’t have a lot of varsity experience and I think that contributes to it in certain points. We’ve got to close it out and fight them off.”
The Lady Cardinals were ultimately able to do that and finish off the sweep as Pottsboro defeated Leonard, 25-22, 25-19, 29-27, during non-district action in just its second home match of the season.
Taylor Hayes and Sammy Wallis each put down 10 kills, Caroline Nix chipped in eight kills, Hannah Fellinger finished with six kills, 14 digs and three blocks, Hadley Williams handed out 12 assists and Autumn Graley collected seven digs for the Lady Cardinals (13-11), who host Whitewright and the Red River Rattlers before opening District 9-3A play next Friday at Whitesboro.
“I think our setters do a pretty good job of mixing it up,” Hayward said. “Sometimes we get that one player who’s hot and we go with them. I prefer to spread it around to make it harder on the defense.”
Whitesboro was a playoff team last year, finishing behind eventual state champion Callisburg, region runner-up Gunter and Ponder, which Gunter beat to reach the region tournament. Breaking into the top half will be a challenge.
“I try to be honest with them about that,” Hayward said. “The top is pretty well spoken for but I think we can compete in this district and if we play like we have, we have a chance against anyone.”
The Lady Cardinals were able to keep Leonard from extending the match with a frantic finish to Game 3. After losing a late seven-point lead, Pottsboro found itself facing game point at 24-23 after Abby Wilson’s kill. The teams traded hitting errors before a service error kept Pottsboro’s hopes at a sweep alive.
Williams came up with a huge block to give the Lady Cards their first shot a game point but a hitting error squared the score again. Hayes had a kill when Leonard had gone back in front and then went over a block for Pottsboro’s second chance. The Lady Cards held on due to a net foul during a scramble that became the norm as both sides hit the court multiple times to keep rallies going.
“We have to anticipate. Always anticipate. We’ve been trying to preach to them they have to be alert. Sometimes hits come off blocks funny and you have to be ready,” Hayward said. “I thought they did a good job of improving on that.”
The ending was needed after Pottsboro raced out to a 10-2 advantage and was up 17-10 after Fellinger put down an ace. The Tigerettes took a time-out to talk it over and then reeled off five straight points, three on aces from Mikayla Farber, to get within two.
The Lady Cardinal lead was down to one on a kill by Wilson but Hayes and Graley helped Pottsboro restored some order.
Facing a 23-19 deficit, Leonard went on a 5-0 run behind Wilson to take the lead for the first time and set up the response by Pottsboro to claim the sweep.
Game 2 had a much closer nature. Pottsboro had the early advantage before Wilson stepped to the service line to spark Leonard’s 6-0 burst to take the lead. The Tigerettes were unable to build on that, however, and Pottsboro got kills from Hayes, Williams and Nix to go back in front to stay at 15-14.
Leonard tried to make a final push but was only able to trim the margin to three points twice before the Lady Cardinals clinched the frame.
Pottsboro built a 17-9 lead in Game 1 before Leonard used a 7-0 spurt to get withing striking distance and tie the frame at 19. The Tigerettes could never get that one last point to take the lead, pulling even twice more, the last at 21, before a Fellinger kill was followed by a Graley ace to provide the breathing room the Lady Cardinals needed.