It had been a long time since Denison had won a district match. It had been even longer since the Lady Yellow Jackets had been able to conquer their rival, the Sherman Lady Bearcats.
And as the first round of 10-5A action was coming to an end, there was a chance to make sure that both of those streaks came to an end.
Even though Denison trailed for only one point in the match, the Lady Bearcats made late pushes in each game that forced the Lady Yellow Jackets to fend them off for a 25-20, 25-20, 25-20 victory in district action at Denison.
The victory snapped a 16-match district losing streak and notched the first win over Sherman in six tries dating back to their first district meeting of the 2016 season.
“It feels good to get a win,” Denison head coach Jana Kelly said. “The girls felt pretty confident. They did a good job of handling that.”
Ashlinn Hamilton put down nine kills, Taryn Gaines added six kills and three blocks, Kenzie Clark handed out 10 assists to go with a pair of aces, Maddie Marr finished with 16 digs and seven assists, Rylie Buttrill chipped in six digs and two aces and Shaniya Butler and Elizabeth Linwood each collected seven digs for Denison (14-22, 1-4), which hosts McKinney North on Tuesday.
“I thought our defense played a heck of a game,” Kelly said. “That’s something we’ve kind of pushed in practice. They really responded well to that drill. It’s all about taking that and carrying it over to the games.”
Kylie Jackman had 10 kills, 12 digs and a pair of blocks, Avery Charske added seven kills and four digs, Samantha Graham finished with 17 assists, six digs and three kills, Jenica Fielder totaled eight assists, five digs and three aces and Jazmyne Aguilar collected 15 digs for Sherman (5-31, 0-5), which starts the second half at Princeton on Tuesday.
Sherman and Denison were trying to remain in the playoff chase and both needed a victory badly to keep pace with the rest of the district. A win would guarantee an opportunity for every match the rest of the way would mean something for the victor. The loser would have serious work to do over the final two and a half weeks to find a way to jump in the mix.
Now the Lady Jackets know their final three matches will almost certainly determine if they can end a three-year playoff drought. And the success in that stretch might only force a play-in game and not automatically clinch a berth. But they are in position — one game behind Princeton for the final spot — and it’s better than a season ago when they went winless in district play.
“We have to do our job too. We have no cushion,” Kelly said. “I think we can compete, as long as we do the things we know we can do, we’re going to make it interesting.”
Denison finished off the sweep by starting Game 3 with five of the first six points and then weathering a challenge from Sherman with a 5-1 run to take a 13-7 lead. Gaines had a pair of kills during that stretch, Madison Chambless contributed at the net and Clark put down an ace to punctuate the run.
When it looked like the Lady Jackets were going to pull away, the Lady Bearcats were able to pull within four behind Savannah Hall at 17-13 and Denison again had an answer, widening the margin back to seven.
“It was good we had the lead we did when they made that push,” Kelly said. “If we weren’t ahead like that it could have been totally different.”
Denison picked up the first four points of Game 2, only to be followed by Sherman’s 4-0 burst to tie the stanza. There was some momentum back on the Lady Cats’ side but it disappeared as the Lady Jackets gained control with an 8-0 surge bisected by a Sherman timeout.
Hamilton was in charge during that portion while Butler picked up a kill and Buttrill landed an ace that made it 14-5.
While Denison couldn’t get the lead into double digits, the Lady Jackets were never really threatened until they were three points away from going up 2-0.
Sherman was down 22-14 before Ryan Dobbs sandwiched kills between a pair of Denison hitting errors. The Lady Bearcats were down three twice, the last at 23-20, before a Hamilton kill and Buttrill ace clinched it for the Lady Jackets.
The teams came out trading points in Game 1 and Sherman was able to jump ahead, 5-4, before Denison used a 4-0 burst and never trailed again. The Lady Bearcats did tie Game 1 at nine before a service error allowed the Jackets to reclaim the lead.
It was only a one-point advantage at 14-13 when Denison notched the next four points. It was a much needed gap and Sherman was never able to get closer than three points the rest of the frame.
That came on a Denison hitting error to trim the deficit to 19-16 but three straight hitting errors from the Lady Bearcats doubled the Lady Jackets’ lead and Laney Muirhead capped the frame by overpowering a block attempt to send the home team on its way to the win.