Shaky Start, Killer Finish
By TJ MAXWELL
Another home game, another shaky start for the Copperas Cove Lady Dawgs and head coach Cari Lowery thinks that’s more than a coincidence.
Despite winning all but one match on their home court, the squad has had trouble coming out of the starting blocks. Such was the case in Tuesday’s 3-1 (20-25, 25-7, 25-12, 25-16) home win over the Harker Heights Lady Knights.
“I’m not very pleased with that match at all,” Lowery said after the match. “We did not play our game. We just played sporadically and we played their game a little bit, not our game. We missed too many serves and we were not in control like we should have been.”
Despite having six seniors on the squad, only three saw significant playing time on last year’s Region II-6A Quarterfinalist’s team.
“We haven’t played well at home all year when we have a big crowd because of the inexperience, I guess. We graduated 10 seniors and these kids have not been in this kind of environment where there are people yelling and I think it’s getting in their heads. We’ll figure that out and get it fixed before it’s too late.”
Senior outside hitter Raeven Dickerson acknowledged the trend of slow starts at home and attributes it to the squad’s high expectations and huge shoes to fill.
“I think it’s just the desire to win because everyone knows how great we are, we just have to show them,” she said.
Another factor weighing in on Tuesday was college scouts in the crowd, said Lowery.
“We had some college coaches in the stands tonight and it hurt a couple of the girls on the floor,” she said. “They played nervous. I never tell them when a coach is here watching but one of the coaches went and sat with parents and I think it hurt. That kind of took us a little out of our rhythm and sync right off the bat. I can fix that though and I will fix that.”
The Lady Dawgs overcame that sluggish start and dominated in the final three sets to improve to 26-10 overall, 4-1 in District 12-6A.
Several Cove miscues in the first game helped the Lady Knights build a 19-8 lead with a 12-3 run. Half of the Lady Knights’ first 16 points came from Cove errors, including five during the run.
The Lady Dawgs finished the set with a 12-6 run of their own that set the tone for the rest of the match.
Cove dominated set two 25-7 to take control of the match.
A pair of strong kills by Harker Heights senior Kennedi Foster helped the Lady Knights stay in the set early three ties in the first eight points but the Lady Dawgs finished the set on a 21-3 run to exert their dominance in the match.
A big kill by senior Jennifer Eubanks and a block by junior Brianna Acker kick started the run. Nine consecutive service points by junior Kiarrah Carlisle and three-straight attack points by senior Katy Ranes helped sustain the run. A pair of kills by Eubanks and some Lady Knights’ miscues closed out the set.
The Lady Knights (18-18, 2-3 District 12-6A) again forced several ties early in the match, but a strong block and couple kills by junior Chyanne Chapman, along with a pair kills each by Acker and Dickerson and two aces by Ranes, propelled Cove on a 20-7 run to close the set.
In the final set, the Lady Knights again kept it close early with ties at 5-, 6- and 7-all, but the Lady Dawgs again finished strong with a 10-3 run down the stretch.
Chapman had five of her team-high tying 10 kills and a dump as part of the 18-9 run after the 7-7 tie, including three kills and a dump in Cove’s final eight points of the match.
The Lady Knights pulled within two, 15-13, on a kill by junior Shelby Smith before Chapman and the Lady Dawgs took over.
“It felt good – the excitement, the thrill,” Chapman said about her strong kills to punctuate the win. “I knew our setters would get the ball to the hot hitters and so I just went in and tried to execute.”
Chapman finished with a staggering .769 kill percentage. The junior missed just three kill attempts. Senior Megan Diaz was next in kill percentage with .455. She was good on 5 of 11 attempts.
Dickerson shared game-high kill honors with Chapman with 10. Diaz and Madison Wasiak led the Cove defense with six blocks (two solo) and 25 digs, respectively. Wasiak also had two aces.
Four more Lady Dawgs had a least five kills. Eubanks and Ranes each had six while Acker and Diaz had five apiece.
Eubanks had 16 digs, senior Bailey French had 15 and Ranes had 13 to follow Wasiak’s team-high 25.
Ranes also had a game-high 27 assists for Cove, followed by Carlisle’s 15.
“I thought Chyanne, Megan, Brianna had great games and my setters were doing a really good job of moving the ball,” said Lowery. “We could have let game one take us completely out of it and not come back. We didn’t do that, we came right back and absolutely dominated game two. I’m pleased with that. That’s a positive.”
Foster had a match-high 11 kills to lead the Lady Knights and senior Aennetra Hill chipped in eight more.
The Lady Dawgs will look to end the streak of slow starts at home on Friday when they host the Belton Lady Tigers with a varsity first serve set for 5:30 p.m.
“We can’t start slow with good teams because it will bury us in a hole that’s hard to get out of and could end our season just like that,” said Chapman. “We have to come out better.”
Better communication will help that, said Dickerson.
“We’re getting better at it every day,” she said. “I don’t think we showed it today in the game but I feel we’re definitely getting better at it.”
Lowery feels if they play like they practice they’ll be unstoppable, but something about the home environment still has them perplexed.
“Our practices are exceptional,” she said. “This group of kids practice like every point is the last point of their lives. They are focused. They work so hard for me. They do everything. It is smooth and beautiful.
“I think a lot of it it’s our crowd. We want a crowd and they have to learn to play with a crowd. That’s what you want. I was here two years before we had more than 10 people in the stands. We want a crowd but we’ve got to get out of our own way and out of our own heads on that.”