With the extensive history between these two teams, head volleyball coach Jason Nicholson was somewhat anxious about the crowd that was to accompany the Dripping Springs Tigers going into today’s 5A state semifinal matchup.
“In 2015, [Dripping Springs head coach Michael Kane] did a great job of flipping home court on us,” Nicholson said. “Basically, all of Austin came up with them and they did a good job of evening the playing field from a fan standpoint. So I have no idea what to expect when it comes to that piece.”
However, once the first whistle blew and the opposite side of the court was still relatively bare, it was clear that Lovejoy had the home court advantage. The Leopards (47-6, 10-0 in district) routed the Tigers 3-0 in the semifinal match at the Curtis Culwell Center, booking the team’s ticket to the championship match versus Kingwood Park (39-11, 16-0) Saturday at 3 p.m., with hopes of capturing a seventh state title.
Before the team faced Liberty in the quarterfinals, senior Madison Waters talked about how the performance of both teams in the first five points would set the tone for the rest of the night. Friday’s matchup was no different, as the Leopards scored the first five points of set one, effectively forcing a timeout by the Tigers’ head coach.
This kind of dominant play continued as the Leopards held the Tigers to just eight points in the first set. The offense racked up 15 kills with a kill completion of 68.2 percent compared to Dripping Springs’ 28 percent.
“Anytime you go out and get a quick start, especially in a setting like this, it can help to calm your nerves and allow you to just go out and play,” Nicholson said. “[Assistant coach Ryan] Mitchell did a really good job talking to the girls about playing within themselves and letting the game come to us. Not expecting too much early, and just kind of going out there and playing ball. It worked out well for us.”
The second set was noticeably more competitive, with four ties and two lead changes. Yet, every time the Tigers started to build some momentum, the Leopards came up with a block or kill to extinguish it and simultaneously build their lead.
“That’s what kind of sets us apart right from the start,” Nicholson said. “We got a kid every time that can go up and put the ball away, and sometimes with such a velocity that it changes the whole momentum of the game. It makes it real difficult on our opponents when they feel like they’re trying to make a run on us.”
The third set followed the same suit, as the student section began to have a visible impact on the morale of the already weary Tigers. Despite some bright moments for the Dripping Springs’ outside hitters, the consistency of the Leopards offense and defense led to them ultimately prevailing 25-17.
“It’s amazing because we haven’t been to the state finals before,” senior Michelle Foster said. “So, to be leaders on the court and contribute [to the win], it just means a lot to us and we’re really proud of this team.”
Kingwood Park came out of the semifinals on the other side of the bracket, with a 3-2 win over Randall (35-7, 16-0). The match was a competitive one, as both teams seemed to be pretty evenly matched from a statistical standpoint. Kingwood Park tallied a hitting efficiency of 23.7 percent, led by senior middle blocker Katey Searcy who completed 57.9 percent of her kills (11 for 19) and junior right side Alia Williams who completed 50 percent (13 for 26).
Not only is this the team’s ninth appearance in the state tournament, but the Leopards have been sitting in the number one spot in class 5A for the majority of the season. The Panthers, who are making their first appearance in the state tournament, were ranked the 24th overall team in the state according to Maxpreps, heading into Friday’s semifinal.