This post, "Scott White: Quick Hits From the UIL Volleyball State Finals" was originally published on LoneStar Volleyball.
She’s listed as a freshman in the program, but Ally Batenhorst played like a state tournament veteran in leading Seven Lakes to a state runner-up finish. The 6-4 freshman had 29 kills in a semifinal win over O’Connor and followed that with another team-high 18 in the loss to Hebron in the championship match.
Against a bigger and stronger Hebron team, she was rejected several times early but didn’t back down and continued to attack, delivering some bruising kills while also displaying a very nice touch on off speed shots to score against the big Hebron block.
Ally and her senior sister Dani, who delivers a lot of pop herself, combined for 75 of Seven Lakes’ 91 kills over the two days.
One of the highlights each year of the 6A finals always seems to be the play of the liberos, who seem fearless in in the face of the ferocious firepower being delivered from both sides of the net.
That was the case again on Saturday as tremendous digs on Hebron bullets by Seven Lakes libero Natalie Winter and back row teammate Olivia Hauck were matched by the Hebron trio of Annie and Blair Benbow along Katie Farley.
The loss to Hebron in the finals was a bit of deja vu for Seven Lakes coach Amy Cataline, who was coach of the Fort Bend Austin team that lost to Hebron in the 2015 state finals, starting the run of three straight titles by the Hawks.
The award for the most dynamic player at the state tournament has to be shared this year between Hebron’s ultra-explosive Adanna Rollins and high-flying outside e’lan McCall of Rouse.
Most of their attacks bordered on violent and brought “ohh’s” and “ahh’s” from fans on both sides every time they unloaded, which was frequently.
As usual in the state finals, there are often MVP-caliber performances by players who just miss out in the voting. That was certainly the case in both the 3A and 5A finals.
In the 3A finals, the MVP award went to deserving Goliad junior OH Amaya Brown but just as easily it could have gone to terrific junior setter Kelly Thomas.
The 5-8 Thomas had complete control of her team from start to finish, and the Tiger attack never missed a beat when one of their many weapons rotated to the back row or to the bench.
“She did a great job of finding her hitters and getting it to them,” said coach Jess Odem.
Thomas also made several point-saving digs on balls that seemed certain Callisburg points and also put up a big block, including a stuff to close out the championship.
And then there was Prosper OH Haley Killinger.
The award went to a very deserving — and inured — Ciera Hecht, who turned in a gutsy performance in Prosper’s upset win over Rouse (see details below). But it could just as easily have gone to Killinger.
The 5-11 senior led Prosper with 14 kills and 19 digs, often coming up with a critical blast or rejection when it was needed most to stop a Rouse rally and continually urging her teammates on and keeping their spirits up even when it seemed like Prosper had no hope of coming back.
Speaking of Hecht, Killinger and Prosper, the best match of the week by far was the five-set battle between the Eagles and Leander Rouse. It was one of those matches filled with spectacular kills, even more spectacular digs, big-time stuffs and momentum shift after momentum shift after momentum shift.
It was one of the best championship matches in years and one that you didn’t want to end . . . unless, of course, you were from Prosper when the score hit 16-14.
The match also featured the scariest moment of the weekend in third set when Hecht chased a ball into the press table for a save and didn’t get up.
After several minutes, she was helped to the Prosper bench clearly in pain and holding her left wrist. Trainers told her that she most likely had broken a bone in her thumb, but that she could play if she felt like she could handle the pain.
She said she could so early in the fourth set she was back on the court with the wrist and hand heavily tapped.
She promptly stuffed a Rouse attack. Throughout the rest of the match she continued to deliver huge kills, throw up a strong block and make one-handed diving saves with the injured hand.
On championship point, she had another one-handed save and then moments later exploded on a set from the back row to deliver the championship to Prosper.
Was there any doubt she was coming back into the match?
“It was the state finals and I just wanted to get back in there,” she said.
“I’ve said it all along that these girls are very mentally tough,” added coach Erin Kauffman.
Apparently they are physically tough as well.
Hecht’s performance was eerily reminiscent of the performance by LoneStarVolleyball Player of the Decade Brianne Barker in 2007 when she played the entire state tournament with heavy bandage protecting a broken left finger. Barker set the Sandies to another state title, earning MVP honors along the way.
And then there is Prosper’s Hope Gramly, considered the best high school BOWLER in the nation who has multiple offers to play volleyball from D1 programs but has said she must be allowed to compete on the bowling team as well. Gramly finished with 8 huge kills in the finals.
“There is no better way to end your last game in high school than winning a state championship,” she said, fighting back happy tears.
One of the best all-around players in Garland was Needville setter/OH Anna Galway, who displayed a very deft touch on the set and a vicious swing on the attack.
She even put up a couple of big stuffs and, for her effort, left with the 4A MVP trophy after the Blue Jays swept Argyle in the 4A finals.
“So unreal,” the 6-1 junior said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet.”
Argyle was in the finals after pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament when they upset one-loss Glen Rose in an emotional 4A semifinals. But did they use up all their magic —and energy — in taking down the heavy favorite?
“I don’t think so,” Argyle coach Megan DeGroot said after falling to Needville in the finals. “I know that happens sometime, but I don’t think we had a hangover from that win. We’ve had big wins in the past and turned around and had another big win.”
Argyle hardly looked like the same team that had upset Glen Rose as Needville’s taller Blue Jays unloaded at will in the finals.
The match featured terrific libero play by Needville’s Kaitlyn Kovarcik and Argyle’s Alyssa Wallace, who repeatedly dove off the court to save points.
One big difference in the match was the massive block of Needville.
“We’re not used to that big of a block,” Argyle’s DeGroot said. “They did a good job of adjusting to where we were swinging and they really timed their blocks well.”
With only two seniors on the roster, is the Argyle coach already looking ahead to 2018.
Not so quick.
“We’re not going to touch a ball for awhile,” she said.
“Club season is coming up and I’m sure everyone saw the story recently about girls getting burned out and quitting or using high school as the off-season,” DeGroot continued, in reference to a recent article about the growth of club sports and the impact it is having on high school athletic programs. “My girls are going to see plenty of balls in club and I don’t want them getting burned out. I want them back!”
In 3A, the bad news for foes of state champion Goliad is that the high-flying Amaya Brown (20 kills in the finals), explosive Ashlyn Davis (12 kills) and Karleigh Hill are all back for at least one more year. Oh yes, so is terrific libero Kaci Hotz. In addition to playing shutdown defense, the 5-3 junior also displayed a wicked serve that kept Callisburg off balance all day and resulted in five aces.
“I just get the sign from my coach and put (the serve) where she tells me to,” Hotz said matter-of-factly.
“It’s a team effort,” Odem said laughing. “I tell her what to do. She does it!”
All of this means that the Tigers will be seeking a fourth straight trip to the state tournament in 2018 as well as a third straight title.
The Callisburg loss overshadowed terrific performances by Callisburg juniors Skylar Allen (20 kills), Macie Satterwhite (13 kills) and Savannah Hott, who will all be back with setter Lindsey Bullard (40 assists) trying to make a third straight trip to state.
In fact, because so many key players on both teams are sophomores and juniors, don’t be surprised if the two are right back battling for the title again next year.
After coming up short of a state title in her first two trips to state, one key member of the Callisburg team did not mince words when asked about next season.
“We will be back,” junior Skylar Allen said through tears during the post-match press conference. “I refuse to go through my high school career without winning a state title. I refuse.”
While they refused to make excuses, reports are that six of Callisburg’s players spent Friday’s day off with IV’s in their arms after coming down with food poisoning.
“I knew that if it went four or five sets it could be a struggle,” Callisburg coach Angela Allen said. “It’s unfortunate that it had to go down this way.”
“I expect us to come back even more focused next year,” said Bullard.
“And hopefully we will be healthy,” added Hott.
And finally, we return with our annual Thanksgiving week quiz.
What do the following athletes all have in common: Hallie Airheart, Erica Airheart, Eden Mizell, Mystic McClintock, Looney Magen, Payton Miller, Hannah Shields, Gentrye Munden, Alyssa Sallee, Sadie Delacerda, Samantha Sauceda, Destiny Rodrigues, Leah Wolters, Karina Martinez, Whitney Dean, Morgan Claxton, Haley Vaughn, Baylee Griffith, Kaitlyn Duval, Mallory Hermes, Savannah Shaw, Katelyn Thurman, Courtney Carr, Halie Threadgill, Janssen Cain, Sydney Sacra, Kailey Labay, Peyton Sulak, Hayden Smyers, Mackenzie Dornak, Kaitlyn Kovarcik, Danielle Davis, Sophie Betzhold, Hannah Mays, Paige Victory, Katie Cooper, Emily Jones, Lauren Castles, Kacey Hasley, Abby Aulds, Grace Morris, Sierra Mooney, Allie Johnson, Shelley Fairbanks, Maggie Webb, Jessika Fairbanks, Sarah Walkoviak, Emily Harmel, Holli Baker, Madonna Liles, Amy Tuefel, Mackenzie Wilke, Shaylee Martin, Rebecca Jordan, Macey McCune, Jacey Cate, Kristin Kieler, Jessica Rabius, Logan Goudeau, Julia Janczak, Maycie Atteberry, Laiken McAnear, Emma Bozarth, Annie Bryant, Sasha Payne, Ally Andress, Sarah Haeussler, Allegra Rivas, Sydney Casey, Skylar Scott, Ally Haden, DaynaDrake, Caroline Fowler, Sophie Walls, Alex Tyler, AJ Koele, Savannah Stanley, Jenna Lyons, Brooklynn Jones, Gabi Sommerfield, Hayden Schilli, Maegan Quintanilla, Lauren Gonzales, Bethany Clapp, Rebekah Benavides, Katelyn Rozypal, Kelsi Luckenbach, Victoria Barton, Trisha Pittman, Jazmine Perez, Hadleigh Hight, Adanna Rollins, Annie Benbow, Blair Benbow, Katie Farley, Carly Earnest, Abegale Williams, Lauren Stevens, Caylin Stewart, Casey McFarland, Remi Keys, Megan Harris, Lauren Merrill, Gabrielle Pilskal, Naomi Sing, Bryanna Bueno, Aspen Thompson, Chinelo Ogogor, Allison Fields, Alyssa Tatsch, Sawyer Siemens, Parker Connell, Joanna Franco, Alexis Miller, Cassidy Nimtz, Dani Batenhorst, Olivia Hauck, Katy Northcut, e’lan McCall, Emily Case, Makenzie James, Dani Cole, Mackenzie Huntley, McKenzie Wells, Maddie Sheehan, Cat Smith, Allana Knowles, Ava Bell, Macy Walterscheid, Taryn Weber, Chloe Hancock, Spencer Smith, Haley Killinger and Hope Gramly?
All are seniors who had the opportunity to finish their high school careers competing in the state tournament.
We hope that win or lose, they are each thankful for such a special opportunity that so many other outstanding athletes over the years never have the chance to experience.