GARLAND — The run to the final match of the season took some twists and turns along the way. But Van Alstyne fought through some tough matches and tough opponents to get to the state tournament.
It was the mark of a group that dominated in winning District 10-3A, dropping just one game during a 14-0 run, and didn’t skip a beat even though there was some injury issues to deal with and new faces added from a season ago.
They dethroned the defending state champion and overcome a pair of five-gamers, including the region final to earn a spot in the final four. But the dream of a capping off the year with a title came up just one victory short as Vanderbilt Industrial defeated the Lady Panthers, 25-22, 25-21, 25-22, to win the Class 3A state championship at the Curtis Culwell Center.
It is the first state title for the Lady Cobras (38-11), who were semifinalists a year ago. Kylann Griffin was named the Most Valuable Player after totaling 19 kills, 15 digs and 11 assists while Maddison Stanush put down 10 kills, Lauren Williams finished with six kills, 17 assists and 12 digs and Allie Eschenburg collected 20 digs.
Valerie Young had 11 kills, 13 assists and 11 digs, Micah Welch totaled 10 kills, 17 assists and 13 digs, Sydney Ingram chipped in five kills and five digs, Samantha Moore added five kills and two blocks and Lindi Boling collected 23 digs for Van Alstyne (37-5), which had the best season in school history by making the title match for the first time after reaching the state tournament for the second time and first since 1997.
“We’re going to have to really step back and realize from an outside standpoint we had a very successful season, the most successful in school history. Obviously it still hurts,” Van Alstyne head coach Veronica Mendez said. “It’s super special. I was very proud.”
In a match where most of the stats were either even or within a point or two, the Lady Cobras’ advantage on attack miscues — nine fewer than VA — proved to be enough of a difference.
“We kept the errors to a minimum better than they did,” Vanderbilt Industrial head coach Kelsey Vazquez said.
Van Alstyne, which had its 19-match winning streak snapped, looked like it was going to extend the match as the Lady Panthers raced out to 9-1 lead in Game 3 behind three kills from Young. Young and Janessa Crawford had consecutive kills to give VA a 12-5 advantage before the Lady Cobras went on a 5-0 run to trim the deficit to two. A service error halted the momentum and a Welch kill followed by a combination block from Moore and Ingram gave Van Alstyne a 15-11 lead.
But the Lady Cobras went up 17-15 with a run that needed an answer. The Lady Panthers had one with four straight points of their own, including a combo block from Moore and Young as VA went ahead 19-17.
Vanderbilt Industrial responded with three points for a one-point margin before Ingram’s kill tied the game at 20. The Lady Panthers’ last chance to tie came down 22-21 but a pair of hitting errors put the Lady Cobras on the verge of the crown. VA fended off one match point before Abigail Pfuhl’s kill clinched it.
The first two games played out in a similar fashion as Van Alstyne was unable to hang on to a lead after the midway point.
In Game 2, Vanderbilt Industrial took the lead for good at 19-18 with the Lady Panthers’ only chance of tying it coming at 22-21 after an attack error by the Lady Cobras.
Welch had back-to-back kills to tie the stanza at 18 but VA was never in front after holding a 16-15 advantage on a Hannah Hemphill kill.
The Lady Panthers jumped to the early lead by notching four of the first five points with Young and Welch leading the charge.
Vanderbilt Industrial battled back to take an 8-7 lead on an ace from Eschenburg before Van Alstyne went on a 6-1 run with Young putting down a pair of kills — the last for a 13-9 lead. The Lady Cobras used a 5-1 burst to tie it at 15 and put themselves in position for a commanding 2-0 lead.
Vanderbilt Industrial spent the latter half of Game 1 just trying to pull even. After the Lady Cobras held a 4-3 advantage, they trailed until the score was tied at 19. But it took some doing to get there.
Van Alstyne used a 6-1 run behind Young and Boling to turn that early deficit into a 9-5 advantage and the margin peaked at five a couple of times with the last at 14-9.
Three straight points by the Lady Cobras made it a 14-12 contest and an ace from Katelynn Stout trimmed the margin to one at 15-14.
From that point the teams alternated the next eight points to keep Van Alstyne ahead for the time being.
Vanderbilt Industrial tied the game at 19 on a kill from Stanush and went ahead for good on the ensuing Van Alstyne attack error.
Ingram had a kill to pull the Lady Panthers within one at 21-20 and Welch put one down to make it 22-21 but VA could never get the equalizer.
It was the fifth time in seven playoff matches that Van Alstyne dropped Game 1, including the last three of the postseason.
“We’ve been really good coming from down and I think we were really expecting that to happen after the first set,” senior defensive specialist Darcey Earley said.