Wildcats nip Panthers in five-set thriller

Sept 29, 2009
BY Matt Welch Staff Writer

PLANO Meeting for the first time on the volleyball court in the 2009 season, the latest installment in the age-old sporting rivalry between Plano Senior and Plano East featured a boatload of service aces, momentum shifts, untimely errors, comebacks and of course, five sets of action.

In the end, the Lady Wildcats managed just a few more breaks and held serve in their district home opener on Tuesday, upending the Lady Panthers, 25-18, 15-25, 24-26, 25-20, 15-11.

With both teams a bit shorthanded due to injuries and the flu, it was a question of which players would rise to the occasion.

“It’s a hard situation to deal with,” said Jennifer Cron, Plano head coach, “when you don’t have your full team. It’s hard to overcome that, but this group fought hard tonight.”

It didn’t take long for Tuesday’s contest to establish just who would serve as each team’s respective breadwinners on offense. As the Wildcats opened up the first set of play with a smooth 10-3 cushion, East senior Chandler Baker rattled off five service aces to help draw the Lady Panthers even.

“I was very proud of Chandler,” said Marcy Crabtree, East head coach. “She stepped up and really gave us an opportunity to win … She did a fantastic job tonight.”

Accounting for a match-high nine service aces on the evening, Baker laid the groundwork for the Lady Panther offense. The Lady Wildcats’ offense rebounded behind a set-high four kills from junior Maddy Haas and seized back a lead that they would never relinquish.

While Haas was contained by the East front row during the second set, it was the play of senior Kenzie Thompson that went blow-for-blow with the equally dangerous Baker.

“Kenzie played very well on the outside,” Cron said. “She just took it over on offense and [East] had no answer for her, which is exactly what had to happen to win that five-set match.”

Unfortunately, Thompson—who amassed four of Plano’s seven kills in the second frame—was not enough to offset the balanced attack on East’s end of the court. Riding a set total of 11 kills and four aces, the Panthers forced the Wildcats out of their rhythm early on, as East managed to draw even, 1-1.

The duel of one-upmanship between Baker and Thompson continued into the third set, where the two amassed over half the kills for their respective offenses. In a set that saw the Lady Wildcats wither an early seven-point Lady Panther lead down to a draw at 23 points each, the East defense bent, but didn’t break. Keeping errors to a minimum, the Lady Panthers nudged ahead late with a Baker kill to put the Lady Wildcats at a 2-1 deficit.

While Baker—who finished with a team-high 18 kills—continued to plague the Lady Wildcats in the fourth stanza, Plano was able to hold the rest of East’s offense to just four kills combined. Coupled with an offensive surge from senior Caiti Wenger, who had been absent from the match’s first three sets, Plano managed it’s first sustained lead since the match’s opening set.

While East nipped at Plano’s heels up until the finish, it was a rotation error that did the Lady Panthers in late, and garnered the 25th point for the Lady Wildcats to push the action to a fifth and deciding set.

The fifth set took on a similar vibe to the fourth, as Thompson and the Wildcats opened up a razor-thin lead that East came close to overtaking, but couldn’t seal the deal.

“I just don’t feel like we had enough confidence to finish it out,” Crabtree said. “We’ve been in a situation where we’ve done some losing recently.”

Finishing with a match-high 19 kills, Thompson commandeered a Plano offense that out-killed East, 8-3, en route to a clinching 15-11 victory.

“It’s always going to be a struggle,” Cron said. “We fought hard and East fought hard, but thankfully, we were the team that was able to get it together.”

Now 1-1 in district play, Plano returns to action on Friday when it travels to Allen. East, who is 0-2 in district and winless in it’s past five matches, returns home for a Friday tilt with Plano West.

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