This year, the best may have been saved for last. 

The final match of the 2019 UIL State Volleyball Tournament was exactly what one would expect in the UIL’s largest classification (Class 6A) between two teams that had a combined record of 90-8 (a .920 winning percentage). 

The Byron Nelson bench cheers a point during the 5A title match

One team (Plano West) won the first and third sets; the other
team (Byron Nelson) won the second and fourth sets. That set up a dramatic
fifth and deciding set. 

And while it was Coach Brianne Groth’s BNHS Bobcats who came away with the 6A state title with a 15-7 Set 5 victory, Plano West Coach Justin Waters and his Lady Wolves certainly had nothing to hang their heads over. 

Byron Nelson libero Gia Santini lays out for a pancake save

Byron Nelson defeated their Dallas-area neighbors Plano West
Lady Wolves, 3-2 (21-25, 25-12, 22-25, 25-15, 15-7) to grab the school’s
first-ever state volleyball championship. Nelson finishes the season with a
spectacular 50-2 record while Plano West ends its year with a blistering 40-6

Groth, the daughter of 10-time state-winning coach Jan
Barker, was asked about how tough it is to actually win the state title despite
being ranked in the Top 4 all season long as well as falling short of that goal
last season.

“To go through Flower Mound (High School), a team that
should have been her with us at the state tournament; that in itself made it a
very tough road to get here,” declared Groth, who enjoyed a postgame
celebration moment with her mom. “To go through the teams we went through
to get here was rough. 

“Plano West is SUCH a good team. It was a battle the first time we played them (BNHS won that match, 2-0). I think what ultimately kept us in it (tonight) was they seemed to be getting tired and we raised our level of play (two-fold).”

Plano West setter Ashley Le (9) sets teammate Iman Ndiaye (1)

Tournament MVP Charitie Luper (25 kills, 12 digs and four total
blocks) excelled on offense, but her coach said it was Luper’s defensive effort
that helped the Bobcats overcome a rough Set 1 loss. 

“The change was to (change rotation to) get Charitie on
(Plano West hitter) Iman Ndiaye,” Groth explained. “I think that’s
the key; we changed what we were doing and got the matchup we wanted.

“Look at her (Luper); she’s nothing short of incredible.
She can do anything she wants. I just wanted to put her up there (with Ndiaye).
She’s 5-foot-9, (but) who cares? She plays like she’s 6-10! And the matchup she
got, and what she was able to do with it.”

The Bobcats raced out to huge leads of 8-0 and 20-8 leads in Set
2 before closing it out, 25-12. 

But as expected, back came Waters’ crew in Set 3. They stayed
tied throughout most of the match, with ties at Points 2, 5, 6, 7, 9,
11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20 and 22. Finally, the Lady Wolves got the jump as an
ace by setter Ashley Le (39 assists, 15 digs, six aces one kill and one total
block), a kill by Ndiaye (match-high 27 kills but just two total block and two
digs) and another Le ace to actually take a 2-1 lead in sets. 

But as they did in Set 2, the Bobcats ran off to a huge lead in
Set 4 and made the outcome of that set elementary. Paige Flickinger
(20 kills, 24 digs, three assists, three total blocks and one ace) cranked it
up, slamming six kills to help Nelson run out to a blistering 15-6 advantage.
Despite a great effort by Jill Pressly, who crushed three kills and made one
block to “close” the gap to 17-12, the Bobcats ran off a
set-ending 8-3 run to force a fifth and deciding set. Pressly finished with 15
kills, 15 digs and one total block.

“Everybody just stepped it up,” Groth commented.
“I’ve always told the girls that great teams find a way to win when
they’re not playing well and great teams find a way to win when they’re on the
biggest stage.”

And win they did.

A kill by Flickinger gave BNHS a 3-1 lead but Iman answered back
to make it 3-2. Luper smoked a blast past the PWHS defense for a 4-2 lead; an
assist error then a Luper block made it 6-2. After a Plano West time out, a
hitting error and another kill by Luper extended the lead to an insurmountable

Nina Peterson (seven kills and three digs) punched back-to-back
kills to make it 11-4; eventually Skyler McKinnon (five kills, two digs and two
total blocks) hammered the hardwood one last time to close out Byron Nelson’s
first title in its first-ever trip to state. 

Nelson setter Payton Chamberlain dished out 52 assists, made 11
digs, served two aces and powered three kills. Noelle Piatas helped Ndiaye,
Pressly and Le on the Plano West side with five kills and four digs. 

Byron Nelson sweeps Clemens;
top-ranked team to play for 6A title

For two sets the Clemens Buffaloes gave the #1 team in the state (and #4 in the nation) Byron Nelson High School all they could handle.

Byron Nelson head coach Brianne Groth

First set, Clemens lost
32-30 as they staved off six straight set points before falling on a hitting

The Buffaloes of Robyn
Wunderlich stayed close in Set 2 as well, matching point-for-point until Nelson
went on a 4-0 run to take a 23-21 lead and then close out the set, 25-22.

That exhaustive effort,
combined with the amazing talent of Coach Bri Groth’s Bobcats, may be why
Clemens fell in Set 3 by a score of 25-14.

Nelson won in three sets to improve to 49-2 on the season and – more importantly – advance to Saturday’s Class 6A state championship match (scheduled for 7 p.m.) against the winner of Plano West and Ridge Point. 

Clemens libero Elizabeth Hill passes the ball

“They gave us
everything they had,” BNHS head coach Bri Groth said afterward.
“That first set was amazing. We kept getting set point but they would find
a way to tie it up again. We were lucky to win that set.

“We definitely didn’t
play to the best of our abilities. We had too many service errors (11 in the
first two sets combined, 12 overall) and we had way too many unforced errors on
the night.”

Paige Flickinger paced all hitters with a match-high 29 kills to go with 13 digs and one block. Charitie Luper, who showed some amazing athleticism, ended with 19 kills, 10 digs and one block. Payton Chamberlain dished 50 assists (just six off the UIL 6A record) and made four digs and one block; Gia Santini had 13 digs, one assist; and Eden Fusselman tallied 15 digs and one assist. 

Clemens outside Shelby O’Neal winds up for a kill

The Clemens Buffaloes, who
made it past the second round for the first ever in the program’s history, were
led by Ashley Bru (eight kills and nine digs), Canada Buchanan (eight kills,
five digs, one block and one ace), Cassidy Steadman (23 assists, 10 digs, two
total blocks and one kill) and Elizabeth Hill (13 digs, three assists and one

“When we came out in
the first set, I felt we were going to win,” stated CHS head coach Robyn
Wunderlich. “I said, ‘We’re gonna do this!’ We just weren’t able to
capitalize on their unforced errors at the end. But we played them toe-to-toe
and it’s unfortunate we lost the first set, 32-30.

“But the girls felt
confident going into the second set and once again we played confidentiality.
We just weren’t able to get over the top and lost.”

About her team’s landmark
season, Wunderlich added, “It’s been quite the ride. The girls won’t
realize it now but it’s been a magnificent season. They should be very proud,
as I am and the entire Clemens community is for their amazing efforts.”

Plano West survives Ridge Point in 5, will play for first state

The first UIL Class 6A  state semifinal at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland on Friday featured a great match between Byron Nelson and Schertz Clemens, a match that Nelson won despite a real struggle.

Hunter Anderson (5) and Iman Ndiaye (1) put up the block
for Plano West

However, that match couldn’t hold a candle to Ridge Point’s 6A
semifinal match with Plano West.

After losing the first two sets to the state’s #4 ranked Wolves,
Coach Lauryn Bailey’s Panthers dug deep inside themselves and found a way to
win the third set.

And then the fourth. 

Tied at 2-2 in sets, the Wolves and Panthers put on one of the
most entertaining, yet dramatic fifth sets in the history of the UIL
State Tournament. 

The two teams literally went point-for-point up to Point #11,
when Plano West senior Iman Ndiaye (who’s headed to UCLA) slammed two kills in
three serves to put the Wolves up 14-12. 

A service error got the Panthers back to within one but
PWHS senior Noelle then slammed a kill to end the match – and Ridge Point’s
season – as the Wolves won 15-13. 

The Panthers’ amazing 2019 campaign ended with a
spectacular 46-5 record. Plano West (40-5) advanced to Saturday night’s 7
p.m. matchup against Byron Nelson for the 6A state championship.

Nothing went right for the Panthers in Sets 1 and 2. Plano West
spread the offene around their big hitters: Ndiaye (27 kills on the night along
with three digs and two total blocks); Jill Pressly (headed to DePaul, 26
kills, 16 digs, two total blocks); and Piatas (University of Miami, 10 kills,
three digs and two total blocks), among others. 

No one would have faulted the Panthers if they fell in three
sets. No one, that is, except first-year coach Bailey and the Panthers

“Nothing was gonna stop them’ they did exactly what
champions should do, Bailey explained. “We could have very easily lost in
three sets. But these girls are fighters and champions and they played their
hearts out.”

“That defines them as who they are. The three seniors are
the epitome of leadership, their determination was amazing..”

Back came the Panthers. They stayed even up until 9-9 in Set 3,
jumped out to a 13-9 edge, got kills from Lindsey Ogle (two kills, two digs)
and Alexis Roberson (one kill and four total blocks) to go up 15-12, then
pulled away to a 22-16 lead on two straight kills by Sydney Jordan (nine kills
and two digs), Tiana Davis (eight kills and three digs) then pounded two kills
on three serves to close out the set for the Panthers, 25-18. 

More than anything else, the growth of the Panthers’ confidence,
combined with better blocking and passing, fueled the squad in Set 4. Last
year’s VYPE Player of the Year, Claire Jeter, (11 kills and six total blocks)
also found her groove, pounding three kills and combining with Davis for a
block in the first 11 points alone.

The Panthers jumped out to a 17-8 lead, then survived a 7-0 run
by the Wolves that cut their lead to 17-15. The two teams traded points
until it was tied at 20. Then, Roberson stepped up and hammered three kills and
Jordan added one more as the Panthers finished the set on a 4-1 run to win

That set up a fifth set that was one of the best ever at the
State Tournament. They literally traded points at from Point 1 through Point
11; neither team was able to get more than one point ahead. 

“We’ll look back on that fifth set and hate the fact we
couldn’t score a couple points in a row,” Bailey recalled. 

At 11-11, the Wolves got two straight kills from Ndiaye to go up
13-11. A service error made it 13-12 but Ndiaye again cranked out a kill to put
it at 14-12 but another Plano West service error kept it alive at 14-13. Then,
Piatas took a set from Ashley Le (47 assists, nine digs, four aces and one
kill) and slammed it past the Panthers’ defense for the final point. 

Reagan Rutherford was her usual outstanding self as she totalled
a triple-double: 16 kills, 16 assists, 12 digs and one block. Britney Omg dug
out 17 balls and assisted on four kills. Nia McCardell chipped in with 16 digs,
eight assists, two aces, and one kill. The Panthers actually out-blocked the
Wolves, 10.5 to seven. 

Rutherford (headed to the University of Kentucky), Jeter (headed
to Texas A&M) and McCardell (headed to Rice University) were singled out by

“These three girls are going to college and will continue
playing volleyball,” she said. “This is the beginning for them;
they’re going to their (respective) schools and will show what amazing athletes
and women they are.”

Other graduating seniors include Kendall Sekula
(Concordia-Irvine), Omg, Randee Hennings, Baleigh Stephens and Tyler

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