What started with such promise fizzled down the stretch as the Brownwood Lady Lions were unable to duplicate their opening-set victory, falling in four sets to Class 5A Cleburne (13-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18) in Tuesday’s home opener at Warren Gym.
The loss was fourth straight for Brownwood (3-4) — three against larger classification opponents and one against a Class 4A Top 10 program — following three wins in a row to begin Lady Lions head coach Jessica Withrow’s first campaign.
“I was real excited starting off,” Withrow said. “I was a little nervous with the girls being at home because there can always be lots of distractions with friends and family, so we talked about going out strong and staying focused and they did. They came alive and we caught Cleburne off guard and that really helped us win that first set.”
Knotted at 7 in the opener, the Lady Lions reeled off four straight points to seize the advantage and never looked back. A block from Lindsey Larose pushed Brownwood in front, Olivia Fowler then tipped a ball over the net for a point, Larose came back with another stuff at the net and Fowler delivered a kill during the decisive run.
The advantage continued to grow for the Lady Lions, who went on a 12-2 spurt to open a 19-9 advantage. Brownwood’s lead peaked at 11 points prior to Fowler finishing the set with a kill for a dozen-point triumph.
In the second set, the Lady Lions fell behind 5-1 and faced an uphill climb the rest of the way. Brownwood gained its only lead of the set, 15-14, on a volley by Hadley Monroe that Cleburne let drop to the floor. However, the Lady Lions yielded the next eight points to fall behind 22-15.
“The second set, I think maybe they got a little too comfortable having one set underneath them,” Withrow said. “They were still fighting hard and tried to push for every single point. The girls are still trying to learn to trust each other and play together and I think they let their emotions get a hold of them after losing that second set.”
Brownwood faced a similar situation in the third set, trailing 9-3 early. The Lady Lions clawed back and pulled even at 13-all on a kill by Torrey Miller. The next seven points, however, belonged to Cleburne.
Attempting to extend the match in the fourth set, Brownwood grabbed an early 9-7 advantage following a kill by Fowler.
Cleburne answered with seven of the next nine points, reclaiming a 14-11 edge. Brownwood twice trimmed the deficit to a single point, the last time on a kill by Katelyn Windham, which made the score 15-14.
Cleburne again responded with a quick surge, tallying four of the next six points to open a 19-16 lead, which gradually increased.
Despite the outcome, Withrow considered the match another learning experience for a young Lady Lions squad.
“This shows us what we need to learn and playing against bigger schools is good for us,” Withrow said. “There’s also some leaders stepping up trying to keep the team positive. Lindsey Larose, I wouldn’t trade her ever. She’s all heart and she’s going to give it all she can and cheer on those girls. I saw some others, too.”
Statistically, Miller led the Lady Lions with 19 kills while Fowler posted a career-best 10. Aleyia Cotton chipped in three kills trailed by Gracie Boswell with a pair and one each by Larose, Windham and Becca Church.
Hadley Monroe distributed 16 assists, Miller tallied 11, Davalynn Monroe chipped in three and Caitlyn Moody was credited with one.
Davalynn Monroe also served two aces and Hadley Monroe added one.
Defensively, Davalynn Monroe notched a career-high 39 digs trailed by Miller with 14, Hadley Monroe with eight, Cotton with six, Moody and Annie Gillispie with five each, Church, Boswell and Lakyn Ratliff with three apiece and Windham and Fowler with two each.
At the net, Larose and Windham recorded three blocks each while Cotton and Miller each finished with one.
The Lady Lions will return to action Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Granbury tournament.
Areas where Withrow would like to see the Lady Lions improve this weekend include stringing points together.
“We’re trying to push points and keep the ball on our side as long as possible,” Withrow said. “There’s been a lot of ping pong, back and forth,we score, they score. We want to keep the ball on our side as push as many points as we can.”