EARLY — Having already secured the most successful season in the program’s five-year history, the Early Lady Horns on Tuesday night continued their quest toward another goal — their first district volleyball championship.
The Lady Horns remained in the thick of the title chase, improving to 3-1 in District 6-3A action — and 19-12 overall — with a straight-set home victory over the Comanche Maidens, 25-15, 25-18, 25-14.
“It feels amazing,” Early second-year head coach Natalie Whitewood said in regard to the Lady Horns’ best-ever start in district competition. “I keep telling them every single day (a district championship) is what we’re going for. I think it’s going to come down to Eastland coming over here and I’m really excited about that.”
Eastland dished out Early’s only district loss thus far on Sept. 25, as the Lady Horns prepare to wrap up the first half of district play at 4 p.m. Friday at Dublin.
As for the historic success the Lady Horns have enjoyed this season, Whitewood attributes, “their hard work, the way they come into practice every single day ready to go, fired up. They work hard in the weight room, they work hard in the classroom and they work hard on the floor.”
In the victory over Comanche, Early’s dominance at the net was the biggest difference. Kacee Gober, with nine kills and two blocks, and Ellie Ryan, with six kills, controlled the action in the middle.
“Overall I thought they did a phenomenal job on the net,” Whitewood said. “We’re getting better and better, but what we have to realize is when we get that good they’re going to start doing other things and that’s where our back row has to step.”
Along with the performances from Gober and Ryan, Trinity Tomlinson and Vance Cady Gordon contributed two kills while Hope Boswell, Kenzie Poindexter and Taylor Summers added one each.
Gordon distributed eight assists while six came from Summers.
Emma Loven served a team-best three aces trailed by two from Summers and one each from Tomlinson, Ryan, Haley Spieckerman and Alexa Portillo.
Defensively, Tomlinson notched 12 digs followed by Spieckerman and Loven with nine apiece, Portillo with six, Gordon with five, Boswell and Ryan with four each, Gober with two and Summers with one.
At the net, Gober tallied both of Early’s blocks.
Tied at 6 in the early stages of the opening set, the Lady Horns seized control with an 8-2 spurt to open a 14-8 advantage. An ace from Summers, kills from Poindexter, Ryan and Tomlinson and multiple unforced errors by Comanche allowed Early to capture the momentum. The Lady Horns’ lead continued to grow throughout the remainder of the set, with Tomlinson recording the final point.
In the second set, the Lady Horns grabbed a quick 11-6 lead only to witness Comanche rally and draw even at 13. The set was also tied at 14, 15 and 16 before a kill from Ryan put Early in front for good, 17-16. A Comanche service error followed by an ace from Portillo extended the Lady Horns’ lead to 20-17. Tomlinson and Boswell notched kills down the stretch, while Ryan secured the victory with an ace for the final point.
The Lady Horns saved their best performance for last, racing out to a 12-2 lead in the third set as Gober pelted the Comanche defense with spike after spike. Ryan also picked up a kill during the early run, while Loven served an ace.
The Maidens closed within five points, 14-9, but got no closer as Early gradually extended its lead the rest of the way. The match concluded on a kill by Ryan.
“I felt like we played much better in Game 3 when we decided we weren’t going to make as many mistakes.” Whitewood said. “I felt like we weren’t attacking them like we should have been in the first two.”
In other District 6-3A volleyball action Tuesday, Eastland defeated Bangs, which slipped to 0-4 in district and 5-18 overall.