EARLY — After a couple of near misses in their two most recent outings, the Early Lady Horns finally recorded their first district victory of the season — and in program history — with a 25-17, 25-19, 14-25, 25-15 victory over the rival Bangs Lady Dragons Saturday afternoon.

“It feels like we broke through a huge barrier,” said Early first-year head coach Mitzi Bell, the third head coach in the Lady Horns’ three-year existence as a varsity program. “Last year they never won any sets in district, so we started with that. But to get their first win, that’s huge for them. Now that they’ve finally got that first district win they’re going to believe in themselves. We all believe they can win, but they have to believe.”

Though Early reached the playoffs last year in its first season as a UIL participant, the Lady Horns did not collect a district victory. With just four teams comprising the district, the Lady Horns were automatically playoff-bound before ever stepping on to the court.

In the new District 6-3A this season, both the Lady Horns (9-15, 1-2) and Lady Dragons (5-15, 0-3) will have to earn postseason berths as two members of the six-team league will stay home.

“Everybody is in the running, there’s no clear shot for anybody right now,” said Bell, whose team lost five-set matches to Breckenridge and Eastland in their first two district outings.

For Bangs, the brightest spot of the match came during the third set. In the fourth and final set, the score was tied at 10 before Early reeled off seven consecutive points to regain control.

“The girls worked really hard this week to implement some changes and we saw those in the third set. We just fell short in our efforts,” said Bangs head coach Lori Eason. “Early is always a big game for us. We just have to continue to work and improve each day and I think we will. My girls have a lot of heart.”

Offensively, the Lady Horns received 10 kills from Ellie Ryan followed by nine from Kacee Gober, seven from Tuesdi Tidwell, six from Jayslin King, five from Trinity Tomlinson, two from Hope Boswell and one each from Gabby Constancia and Morgan Luckie.

King dished out 13 assists trailed by eight from Cylee Tyson, three from Tomlinson, two from Tidwell and one apiece from Constancia, Ryan, Boswell and Holly Callaway.

Boswell and King both served six aces while Constancia and Tyson added three each and Luckie chipped in a pair.

On the defensive end, Constancia collected 18 digs followed by Tyson with eight, Callaway and Boswell with seven each, Tomlinson with six, Hallie Brinson with four, Luckie with three, Tidwell with two and Gober with one.

At the net, Gober notched six blocks, Ryan added four, Tidwell chipped in three and Tomlinson and King contributed two apiece.

The Lady Dragons’ offense featured three kills from Karlie Little trailed by two each from Alli Allen, Kenzie Baker, Kenedi Deal and Harley Montague, along with one by Kyra Smith.

Baker recorded 18 assists while Marianna Alvarado contributed 13 and Allen was credited with one.

Montague served four aces while Allen added a trio and Deal, Smith and Little tallied one each.

Defensively, Deal finished with 10 digs followed by Alvarado with seven, Baker, Little and Vanessa Perez with four each and Allen, Smith and Montague with two apiece.

Smith and Montague also tallied blocks for Bangs.

In the opening set, Early jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead and never looked back. Bangs crept within four points, 15-11, but got no closer. The Lady Horns, meanwhile, stretched their advantage to a set-high nine points at 23-14 prior to securing the win.

The second set was even at 15 when Bangs called a time out, and Early responded with seven consecutive points out of the break to wrestle away all the momentum. The Lady Dragons led 14-12 before allowing 13 of the final 18 points.

The third set belonged to Bangs as the Lady Dragons grabbed an early 6-3 edge. Early knotted the score at 6, but Bangs responded with a 7-1 spurt to open a 13-7 lead. The Lady Dragons gradually increased their cushion throughout the duration of the third set as Early couldn’t find its footing.

Bangs led 8-5 in the opening moments of the fourth set, but once Early drew even at 10 the entire set changed. The Lady Horns then tallied the next seven points to open a 17-10 edge en route to a double-digit victory.

On Tuesday, Early visits Dublin and Bangs travels to Comanche with both matches slated to start at 6:30 p.m.