By TJ MAXWELL
GLEN ROSE – The Copperas Cove Lady Dawgs volleyball team has an embarrassment of riches in the hitting department with the 11th-best hitting percentage in Class 6A and ninth-best in all classifications of Region II. The Lady Dawgs also rank near the top in the kills category at 38th and 13th, respectively, led by seniors Reaven Dickerson, Jennifer Eubanks and Chyanne Chapman.
Junior Brianna Acker is working hard to join those ranks and demonstrated her improvement in the Lady Dawgs’ 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-10) sweep of the Lakeview Centennial Lady Patriots in the opening round of the playoffs Monday at Glen Rose High School in Glen Rose. She led the team in kills for the first time all year in the biggest game of her high school career.
“I feel like I’ve been getting better every game,” she said. “In practice I’ve been working really hard to be more consistent, put the ball down and not make as many hitting errors. I felt strong on the court.”
Acker adds her name to the list of five other Cove hitters that can take over a game at any time. That variety of weapons makes the Lady Dawgs’ attack difficult to defend.
“We have great offense from everywhere and that’s why we’re a great team,” said Dickerson, the team kills leader. “(Brianna) Acker really did show up this game. She’s capable of being a great hitter and she showed that tonight. I think everybody was proud of her.”
Having that offensive diversity has really helped the inexperienced Lady Dawgs this year.
“It’s awesome,” said Cove head coach Cari Lowery. “I’ve always said, You can defend against one or two great hitters, because all you have to do is set up on them and take them out of their system because they’ve defended on those one or two good hitters all year. When you’ve got weapons coming from everywhere – front row and back row – it’s hard to defend. Tonight, there multiple times when we got everybody in, their middles just checked out. They just stopped. They didn’t know where to go.”
The Lady Dawgs didn’t need much offense to down the Lady Patriots in the sweep, but as usual, it was divvied out evenly with Acker notching eight while Dickerson, Eubanks and Chapman each contributed seven and Ranes added four.
Many of the Lady Patriots points came off of Cove miscues in the first two sets. Only four of Centennial’s 15 points in the first set came off offensive attacks.
With just three players seeing previous playoff action, nerves played a factor early. But, but like all good teams, the Lady Dawgs finished strong.
“I thought we were a little nervous,” said Lowery. That was not the best game we’ve played. We never have that many receiving errors, setting errors or defensive errors. Those are three parts of the game that we are consistent in and we were very inconsistent with those tonight. I’m glad we had this game and got those nerves out of the way. We will have to play a better game for everything coming from now on.”
The Lady Dawgs began the night with a 9-1 run with kills by Dickerson and Chapman along with a block by Chapman.
After a couple serve-receive errors on Cove helped the Lady Patriots cut into the lead, Cove responded with another big run, this one 10-1, to take a 19-5 lead.
Big kills by Acker and Chapman, paired with blocks by Acker, junior Megan Diaz and Ranes, led the way in the run.
Three consecutive errors by Cove and a pair of dumps by Centennial junior Alysia Clewis helped the Lady Patriots crawl back in the set, 21-12, but a kill by Eubanks and a block by Chapman quelled the threat and finished the set 25-15.
The Lady Patriots began to find some offense in the second set with three kills by Clewis and another by senior Breonna Jackson that kept them in the set early.
A block by Jackson and two Cove errors allowed the Lady Patriots to take their second lead of the contest 8-7.
After a sloppy portion of the contest that saw six miscues over 11 points to push the score to 18-14, Cove, a kill by Dickerson and a block by Eubanks helped Cove secure the set 25-20.
The Lady Dawgs pulled it together in the final set to secure a trip to the Area Round of the playoffs.
“It feels so amazing,” Dickerson said about the playoff win. “It just gives us more motivation to keep playing and go all the way to state. That’s what we’re working for. There were some little things we could have done better but, other than that, we played a great game.”
The playoff pressure is old hat to Dickerson but many of the Cove players were under the bright lights for the first time, including kills leader Acker.
“At the beginning, I was really nervous because I’ve never played in a playoff game before,” she said. “Once we got into the groove of everything, it all played out.”
Lowery saw the nervous moments and hopes her squad don’t bring them into the next rounds.
“I didn’t feel like they were nervous before we started but once we started and had some wobbly sets and we’re stuck in the mud reaching for things, I knew it was there. I felt by game three we realized this is it.
“I told them, ‘They’re playing like it’s the last game of their high school career because it is. So, ya’ll have to play like you don’t want it to be the last game of your high school career. You’re six games away from a state championship. There are 18 days left in the season so every one of them have got to count.’”
Chapman and senior Bailey French led the team defensively with 11 blocks and 21 digs, respectively.
Ranes and junior Kiarrah Carlisle divided up the setter duties with Ranes leading the way with 19, followed by Carlisle’s 15.
“On the floor tonight, we had basically three kids that have been in a playoff situation before that they had to contribute to,” said Lowery. “They’ve been on the bench, worn the uniform and done the warm-up but it’s not the same thing. Now they understand it’s just another ball game so we need to just step up and play and meet the challenge.”
The Lady Dawgs’ next challenge will come on the same court as Cove will face the third-place team from District 10-6A, Lake High-lands at 7 p.m. tonight in the Area Round at Glen Rose High School. A win tonight and the Lady Dawgs may have a rematch with Richardson Pearce, who knocked Cove out of the postseason last year. Pearce must firs survive District 11-6A champions, Garland Sachse.
Lowery says her team just needs to play their game to the best of their ability and the chips will fall where they may.
“There are a lot of things that can take you out of the playoffs,” said Lowery. “It is very rarely the best team in the state that wins the state championship. There are so many things that go in to who actually finishes at the end of the year – who can handle the pressure, stay focused, stay solid and do their job, come back when they’re down and stay up when they’re up. There are a lot of things. Officiating can make a big difference too.”