Lady Dawgs shake off nerves in Bi-district sweep of Horn

By TJ MAXWELL
Cove Leader-Press

WEST – It definitely wasn’t the start they wanted to begin the 2018 playoffs, but the ending was right on task for the Copperas Cove Lady Dawgs volleyball team in their 3-0 sweep (25-12, 25-14, 25-8) of Mesquite Horn in the Bi-district round of the 2018 UIL State Volleyball Playoffs Tuesday night at West High School.
The Lady Dawgs began the first two sets in holes, falling behind by as much as three to begin both sets, but finished strong with a 13-3 run to close out the first set and a 13-2 run to close out set two and take a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Dawgs then jumped out to a 12-2 lead on their way to a 25-8 win in set three for the sweep.
“That was just first-game playoff nerves,” said Copperas Cove head volleyball coach Cari Lowery. “You can prepare and prepare but they know it’s the playoffs. You can tell them it is just game 44 or whatever but it’s the playoffs and they know it. 
“We had to come back but by game three we got it together and we handled it.”
Cove has changed their defensive rotation several times since losing senior libero Kristen Wasiak to a season-ending injury and Lowery liked what she saw in just the second game in the rotation.
“We have moments of greatness,” she said. It doesn’t always look as smooth and pretty as it used to, but things are happening and it’s getting better. We’re not afraid to be aggressive. This is only the second game we’ve played in this formation. It was better tonight that it was on Friday and Friday was good. We played great Friday against a very good team. 
“If I was going to critique our team tonight, it wasn’t defense. It was inconsistency in our offense that hurt us all the way across. Aidan (Chace) had a phenomenal game, but we didn’t get as much offense out of all of our hitters that we typically do.”
Offensive architect, senior setter Kamryn Ash, is just proud of her team’s accomplishment.
“It feels great, she said. “It was really hard with the injury to Kristen, but I think we pulled through. Jaela is doing a great job. We’re doing great with our passing and hitting and it’s coming together.”
Another change on the defensive front admittedly makes it harder for her to do her job but the defensive effort and plethora of hitters eases that task for Ash.
“It’s hard sometimes but I have such great passers and that’s how I can do my job,” she said. “If I do my job, then the hitters can do their jobs.
It’s so great (having so many hitters). Setting is so hard but the fact that I have such good hitters really helps.”
Three-consecutive miscues opened the playoffs for the Lady Dawgs before a kill by junior Janice Fa’aola put the Lady Dawgs on the scoreboard but a block and a kill by Lady Jags sophomore Charlize Williams helped Horn maintain their slim lead for a 5-2 Horn advantage.
The Lady Dawgs then slowly began chipping away at the Lady Jags’ lead. Three kills by senior Aidan Chace and one by Fa’aola knotted the set at 8-8 before a pair of big kills by senior Christina Pettigrew and Fa’aola helped Cove take a 12-8 lead. 
Kills by Horn freshman Makaila Harris and Williams briefly kept the set close at 15-12 but a 10-0 run by the Lady Dawgs closed out the set 25-12.
Four blocks and a kill on the next five points pushed Cove’s lead to eight, 20-12. A block and a kill by senior Jada Close, a duo block by Close and Chace and a pair of solo blocks by junior Leah Powell accounted for the Cove points. 
Kills by Chace book-ended the final five points to close the set for Cove while a tip to open floor by Powell and a one-arm diving dig by junior Jaela Rice highlighted the run for the Lady Dawgs.
The second set began eerily similar with the Lady Dawgs falling behind 1-4. Cove then began climbing back in the set forcing ties at 6, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 before closing on a 13-2 run.
Kills by Harris and Williams helped the Lady Jags build the early lead but kills by Close and Chace evened the set and another kill by Chace gave the Lady Dawgs a 7-6 lead.
A few more Cove miscues and a big block by junior Rebekah Cooper spurred a 6-2 run for the Lady Jags to take a 12-11 lead.
A block by senior setter Kamryn Ash and a kill by Chace then launched the 13-2 closing run. A kill by Fa’aola and an ace by Rice helped Cove extend their lead to 20-13 before Harris connected will a kill for the final Horn point of the set. Kills by Close, Powell and Chace highlighted the final five Cove points. 
It was all Cove in then deciding set.
A kill by Chace helped the Lady Dawgs build a 3-0 lead before kills by Chace, Powell, Close and Pettigrew ballooned the Cove lead to 12-2 before a dump to open floor by Horn junior Ashanti Sampsell and a block by Williams briefly halted the Cove run for a 12-4 score. 
The Lady Dawgs extended their lead to 11, 16-5, before another dump by Sampsell made it a 17-5 contest. 
Cove then finished strong with eight kills in the next 11 points to take the third set 25-8. Fa’aola, Pettigrew, Close and Chace all earned kills in the run.
“It feels great being Bi-district champs,” said Chace. “It sets us up to come into the second round strong and hopefully progress from there.
“It’s been tough losing our libero, but we’ve made it work. We’ve made some adjustments and we have people we can put in place if something is not working out. Right now, everything is working out pretty good for us.”
Chace lead the Lady Dawgs offense with 16 kills followed by Fa’aola (8), Close (7), Pettigrew (5), Powell (5), and Rice (1).
Setting up that offense was Ash with 31 assists followed by Chace (10) and Powell (1). 
Powell had 13 digs to lead the back-row defense for Cove followed by Chace (12), senior libero Aviyon Wilborn (11), Rice (5), Ash (4), Close (3) and Fa’aola (2). Powell also led in serves received with 20 followed by Wilborn (10), Rice (2), and Chace (1).
Close led in defense at the net with six blocks followed by Chace (5), Powell (4), Pettigrew (3), Ash (2) and Fa’aola (1).
Close and Rice also added one ace apiece.
The Lady Dawgs’ toughest tests are still to come starting tonight against the no. 4 ranked Prosper Lady Eagles when they face off in the Area round of the playoffs at West High School with a 6:30 p.m. first serve.
“They’re big, they’re solid and they’re going to be good,” Lowery said of her Area round opponent. “They play a lot like us and they have hitters everywhere. It’s going to be a challenge, but all the rest of the games are going to be. They’re beatable just like everybody is. We just have to get better. We have to fix the little mistakes. We’re not going to win every single point or shut them down on every single attack, but we can’t let that get in our heads. We just have to keep plugging away doing what we do the best we can do it.”
Communication is the key, says Ash.
“We have to talk,” she said. “As long as everybody does their job and does what they are supposed to do, we will beat them.”

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