BELLS — As the defending district champion, Van Alstyne has known the simple fact that it holds that title until someone takes it away.
Coming off a 33-win season which ended in the third round against eventual state champion Callisburg and a large portion of the rotation returning, there was a chance for Van Alstyne to be even better.
“I don’t think they feel the pressure,” Van Alstyne head coach Veronica Mendez said. “They’re just excited to be a talented team that has the opportunity.”
What hasn’t happened yet is for a district opponent to pull off an upset and time is running out with just three chances left after first-place Van Alstyne defeated third-place Bells, 25-17, 25-21, 25-15, in 10-3A action.
Van Alstyne (28-4, 9-0) is on a 10-match winning streak, dating back to a loss against Gunter, and has won 17 of its last 18 matches. In district play, VA lost its opening game, 26-24, against Blue Ridge and has won the last 27.
Valerie Young had 10 kills, 10 assists and eight digs, Micah Welch finished with 19 assists, 13 digs and five kills, Lindi Boling collected 19 digs, Darcey Earley chipped in 12 digs, Janessa Crawford put down seven kills, Samantha Moore totaled five kills, four aces and three digs and Sydney Ingram added four kills and four digs for Van Alstyne, which can clinch the top seed for the playoffs with a win at second-place Bonham at 4 p.m. on Friday.
“Sometimes even teams who have a lot coming back can have holes. We graduated our two middle blockers and that was huge,” Mendez said.
Sophomores Hannah Hemphill and Moore have filled those voids and kept the rotation strong.
“They’ve done a really good job. They’re an asset,” Mendez said. “They have a strong core around them.”
Boling and Ingram have been on the varsity all four years while Welch and Earley have been on the roster the past three since joining as sophomores.
“Our defense, led by by Lindi Boling, they’re so solid. We’re not making errors,” Mendez said. “Our serve-receive is spot on.”
Bella Smith had nine kills, four digs and two blocks, Gabby Smith added seven kills, Cheyenne Floyd handed out 14 assists to go with two aces and Mia Moore collected four digs for Bells (21-14, 5-3), which remained two games in front of Blue Ridge with four to play, including their road match against the Lady Tigers on Oct. 25. Bells, which finished fifth last season to snap a string of four straight playoff appearances, hosts Whitewright on Friday.
“We need to win the games we should win so we’re not in a bad position,” Bells head coach Lisa Johnson said.
Bells was in position to win either of the first games against Van Alstyne as they were neck-and-neck into the latter stages. But the same scenario played out in Game 2 as it did in Game 1 — a late VA push provided just enough to give the visitors an opportunity to go for the sweep.
“We were fighting with them,” Johnson said. “We got stuck in a couple rotations and couldn’t get to where we could make a play. Every point matters. If you have that four-point lead instead of a two points, it can be the difference in a situation like that.”
The opening game saw the teams trading points, except for when Bells had a 7-5 lead on an ace by Floyd, before Van Alstyne got it back to a one-point margin and the trading of points resumed.
It continued that way until the deadlock at 15-all was broken on a kill from Welch which sparked a 4-0 burst.
Bells was able to get back within two at 19-17 but Van Alstyne widened the gap to take Game 1, which was punctuated by a Moore kill.
Momentum was with Van Alstyne at the start of Game 2 thanks to a 5-0 run. Bells chipped away behind a couple of blocks by Bella Smith before another 5-0 run with Moore at the service line pushed the lead back to seven at 11-4.
Bells wasn’t about to go quietly and Jaiden Tocquigny’s kill had the home team down just 12-11. The stanza remained close for the next dozen points and Bells was ahead, 19-18, on a hitting error when Van Alstyne called a timeout.
Van Alstyne was able to win a long rally, the first of five consecutive points to take the lead for good and a 2-0 advantage in the match.
The sweep was completed after Van Alstyne fended off an early push from Bells in Game 3 that tied the frame at four. A 4-0 run and a 5-0 run were sandwiched around a pair of Bells points which took VA’s lead from 14-11 to 23-13 and the match was over soon after that.