Most coaches in high school team sports will say that while the regular season is important, they want their teams to be playing their best when postseason rolls around.
That’s pretty much what Houston’s volleyball team did this year, as the Lady Tigers played their best game of the season – and were at times dominant – in beating top-seeded and county rival Licking 3-1 in the Class 2 District 8 Tournament championship contest Monday night at Dixon.
“I’m super proud of the girls,” said HHS head coach Julia Sloan. “They worked their tails off tonight.”
Seeded second in the 6-team bracket, Houston won the first set 25-17 before the Lady Wildcats rallied late to take the second set 26-24 in overtime. But the Lady Tigers took complete control from there, blasting Licking in the fourth set 25-10 and then closing out the game with a 25-16 win in the fourth set.
Houston took advantage of sparkling effort from the front line and back line throughout the contest, and got another massive offensive performance from senior outside hitter Angie Smith, who frequently bashed balls to the floor or slammed them off of targets wearing Lady Wildcats uniforms and out of bounds.
Also helping dictate the play up front were senior Kelsey Pritchett and sophomore Kynlee Weaver, who frequently scored on blocks, kills and strategically-placed tip shots.
Meanwhile, led by junior libero Makinley Aaron, the Lady Tigers were constantly running around and diving after balls to keep rallies alive, time after time resulting in mistakes on Licking’s side of the net.
Luck was even on Houston’s side. With the score at 9-7 in favor of the Lady Tigers in the fourth set, senior Maddie Holder handled a hard-hit ball and sent it high into the Dixon gym’s metal rafters. It didn’t touch anything, traveling right through an opening and coming down in bounds.
Houston scored on the rally to lead 10-7, and rode the momentum to a decisive victory in the set and game.
The contest ended on an ace by sophomore Kayla Wagner that sent Houston players and fans into a joyful frenzy at midcourt.
The Lady Tigers might have pulled off a sweep, but trailing 24-21 in the second set, the Lady Wildcats rallied for 5 straight points to even the game at the time.
Individual statistics are not yet available.
The Lady Tigers advanced to the final game by sweeping No. 6 Steelville 3-0 in a semifinal matchup last Thursday (25-15, 25-20, 25-12), while Licking got there by sweeping No. 4 Bourbon 3-0 in the other semifinal. In first round games on Oct. 17, Steelville swept third-seeded Belle, 3-0, and Bourbon downed No. 5 Dixon 3-2.
“I think we’ve put the work in, and we’re dedicated,” Smith said. “Let’s just get some more wins!”
The Lady Tigers’ historic win avenged two regular season losses to the Lady Wildcats (30-6-1).
“They wanted it,” Sloan said. “They’ve been bound and determined to beat Licking and tonight was the night. They’ve known they could beat them and that’s what they did.”
Houston (26-7-1) will travel to Stover on Thursday (Oct. 26) for a sectionals round game in the Class 2 State Tournament. The District 7 champion Lady Bulldogs enter the game with a robust record of 33-2.
Last year, the Lady Tigers fell to Liberty in the Class 2 District 9 championship game in Tiger Fieldhouse.
The last time Houston won a volleyball district championship was in 2006.
“And we’re not done yet!” Smith said.
“The girls earned it,” Sloan said. “They have worked hard in the offseason and during the season, and all their hard work has paid off.
“And I agree – we aren’t done yet!”
CLASS 2 DISTRICT 8
(seeding in parentheses)
(4) Bourbon 3, (5) Dixon 2
(6) Steelville 3, (3) Belle 0
(1) Licking 3, (4) Bourbon 0
(2) Houston 3, (6) Steelville 0
(2) Houston 3, (1) Licking 1