The North Lamar Pantherettes volleyball team looked to bounce back from a tough sweep at state-ranked Gunter of Class 3A. Up next was the No. 13-ranked Melissa Cardinals of Class 4A, who reached the state finals a season ago.
The Pantherettes came out swinging and gave Melissa everything it could handle in a close 5-set loss by a final score of 25-20, 25-15, 18-25, 16-25 and 13-15.
North Lamar stormed out of the gates hard and fast. Senior setter Kenley Coston picked her poison each point, setting J.J. Johnson, Macie Pointer and Ashley Trenchard, who were consistently putting the ball down past a discombobulated Melissa defense. The Pantherettes took the first two sets in convincing fashion, which was a testament to the way they played.
“Our energy was so good the whole game,” North Lamar head volleyball coach Sara Beth Upchurch said. “Those first two games, we kept the offense really fast, and it really did work. We didn’t give their blockers enough time to set up, which was really working for us. We were passing really well in the beginning. Towards the end, our serve receive sort of had lapses, and they started to serve to our weaker spots. In the end, our energy was great the whole time, and us keeping the offense quick is key for us.”
However, Melissa regrouped and settled in even when its back was against the wall. The Lady Cardinals trailed 15-14 in the third set following an ace from Pointer after North Lamar overcame an early deficit. Despite that, Melissa surged ahead 19-16 on a 4-2 run, and didn’t look back even when North Lamar cut the deficit to 22-20 later in the set. The Lady Cardinals ended the set on a 5-0 run, then took the fourth set 25-16 despite a late charge from North Lamar.
The fifth set came down to the wire. North Lamar took the early 2-0 lead following a big kill from Johnson and a kill by Noel Rainey from the back row, but Melissa went on a 4-0 run to recapture the lead. After a point for North Lamar, the Lady Cardinals used a 4-1 run to go ahead 8-4, which forced a timeout by the Pantherettes.
North Lamar tried to battle back, but the end seemed near as Melissa expanded its lead to 11-6, and forced another timeout by the home team. Then, North Lamar made it interesting. Another kill from Rainey and a block by Hutton Pointer trimmed the deficit to 11-8. After that, three Melissa errors tied the set at 11-11. The Lady Cardinals got a big kill to take a 1-point lead, but another kill from Rainey tied it at 12-12. The teams were set for a photo finish.
Melissa recorded back-to-back kills to take a 14-12 lead, but Johnson put down a big kill to cut it to 14-13. On the next point, though, a kill from Melissa ended the action as the visitors escaped with the narrow victory.
Despite the loss, Upchurch saw a lot of encouraging signs from her team in the match.
“I think it says a lot about their character,” Upchurch said. “They can get beat in three sets by Gunter and come out here with a state finalist team and lost by two points in the fifth set. I think that says a lot about them, their fight and their will to win. This has me more motivated than ever. It makes me feel like this team can hang with those bigger squads. I think this is just motivation for them, too, and it says a lot about them as kids that they can bounce back like that.”
Johnson led the way with 17 kills and 5 aces, while Macie Pointer recorded 12 kills, 4 blocks and 3 aces. Coston tallied 39 assists, while Jaycie Proctor and Emma Layton played strong defensively with 13 digs and 11 digs, respectively. Rainey had an impact with 6 kills and 5 digs, while Trenchard totaled 8 kills. Hutton Pointer contributed on the front line with 5 blocks.
The Pantherettes play again at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Class 5A Princeton.
S1 S2 S3 S4 S5 F
Melissa: 20 15 25 25 15 3
North Lamar: 25 25 18 16 13 2
Melissa statistics unavailable
North Lamar kill leaders: J. Johnson, 17; M. Pointer, 12; A. Trenchard, 8; N. Rainey, 6
North Lamar dig leaders: J. Proctor, 13; E. Layton, 11; N. Rainey, 5
North Lamar assist leaders: K. Coston, 39
North Lamar blocks: H. Pointer, 5
North Lamar serving aces: J. Johnson, 5; M. Pointer, 3