County squads gain experience at Tyler tournament

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Alba-Golden head volleyball coach Jamie Webster summed it up best before her Lady Panthers took the court for their initial match of the Tyler ISD volleyball tournament. “We are here to learn how to compete,” she stated earnestly.

Alba-Golden, Mineola and Quitman teams all realized huge benefits from the tourney which featured the absolute best teams from East Texas and beyond. There were no weak teams at the tourney.

The Lady Panthers faced Carthage, Longview and Mesquite Poteet in the initial round. Mineola challenged Henderson, Little Elm and Whitehouse, while Quitman squared off against Tyler Lee, Van and Willis.

Although none of the three Wood County schools advanced into the championship bracket, the experience of facing so many (nine games over three days) talented teams will put each squad in good stead as district play approaches. “This is a tough, tough tourney,” stated Quitman head coach Ashlee Lingo. “We will use this tourney to build on,” she added.

The Lady Panthers experienced optimal conditions for their initial contest against 6A Longview. At the initial game of their tourney, in a nearly empty junior varsity gymnasium, the six players from each side battled it out point by point.

Alba-Golden built a 6-2 lead before the Lady Lobos began to methodically exploit defensive gaps with their powerful offensive attack. The Lady Panthers killed Longview’s momentum with a quick time out after Longview surged to take a 9-7 lead.

The Lady Panthers’ Ann Marie Pendergrass and Crimson Bryant excelled in their blocking game at the net, and Longview gave them plenty of opportunities against quality scorers. The Lady Lobos were adept at glimpsing the court while leaping to make a kill shot and directing their shots to seams in the defense.

Webster’s charges could not retain the service advantage and fell in game one 25-17, but the game gave the Lady Panthers a shot of confidence. The effect on the squad was palpable.

Game two was a close affair. Alba-Golden rallied from behind twice to tie the score at 9 and again at 15 points. Pendergrass continued her fine performance adding well-timed drop shots. Madi Bryant and Kayli Covey contributed with their kill and service games.

The surge down the stretch fell short as the Lady Lobos closed the match with a 25-23 win. The fine performance was likely a defining point in the Lady Panthers’ season.

The Lady Jackets began the tourney across from the Whitehouse Ladycats. Whitehouse was well warmed-up from their preceding match win over Henderson, and jumped out to a 6-0 lead. A Sabria Dean kill shot gave Mineola its first point of the tournament.

Game one stalled as neither side could retain momentum. Epic battles ensued at the net between Mineola’s Dean, Brittany Pickle, Tahjae Black and Valerie Garcia against Whitehouse’s dominating duo of Briana Brown and Ashlee Taylor.

Whitehouse began to open a margin as the game wore on, but the Lady Jackets fought back, closing to 22-20. The Ladycats prevailed 25-22.

Game two featured energetic play by both sides and long volleys. Unfortunately for the Lady Jackets no point came easy. Seemingly every bounce of the ball went to Whitehouse’s favor and the Ladycats quickly doubled up the score on Mineola.

The lasting memory of the game was not the score or scoring, but the constant and composed exhortations of Mineola head coach TaShara Everett as she recognized proper spacing and play. “That’s good…that’s right,” was heard repeatedly as she taught in the moment.

Mineola dropped the match to Whitehouse, but certainly are better for the experience.

It would have been easy for Quitman to have had a let-down in their final match of the tourney’s first day. They had just challenged Tyler Lee on Lee’s home court and very nearly recorded an upset. There was no let-down from Coach Lingo’s squad.

The Quitman-Van match went three games. Van won the first handily 25-13. Quitman took the second game 26-24, and Van secured the match with a 25-15 game three win.

The Lady Vandals used an eight-point rally to open up what had started as a close contest in game one. Despite some timely scoring by Lady Bulldog Julia Simpkins, Quitman succumbed to unforced errors.

There aren’t many more closely played volleyball games than game two. Twelve times the score was knotted. Quitman simply refused to yield. Motivated play by Ava Burroughs and Lucy Brannon led the Lady Bulldogs, as Quitman recorded its first win of the tourney.

The tie-breaking game was a bit of a disappointment for the Lady Bulldogs, as they could not string enough points together to make a concerted rally. They could not break Van’s will. Lady Bulldogs Lexie Wilson and Alexis O’Neal made spirited contributions, although Van prevailed in the match.

The appeal of the Tyler ISD tourney continues to grow. East Texas schools use the tourney as a clinic in the art of volleyball, and to great effect. As Alba-Golden’s Coach Webster commented, “We based our tournament success on how well we played as a team. We grew a lot and our expectations are high.”

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