The Race is On: Lady Eagles top East, draw even in 10-5A standings
ALLEN -- If form holds, the final playoff spot in District 10-5A may well come down to either the Allen or Plano East volleyball teams.
And after Tuesday night, the Lady Eagles (2-4) have officially re-entered the playoff conversation after a 3-1 victory (25-16, 25-21, 21-25, 25-21) drew them in even with the Lady Panthers (2-4) for fourth place.
"This one was crucial," said Kelley Gregoriew, Allen head coach. "... What I'm excited about is that this team is getting better and better. As long as we keep getting better, we just have to take it one match at a time."
The Lady Eagles evened the count with East after having previously dropped a 3-2 decision on Sept. 21; a match that saw Allen go up 2-0 and surrender the final three sets.
For a moment, it looked like deja vu might creep up on the Lady Eagles again after East averted a sweep with a set three victory and established an early 3-1 lead in the fourth frame.
The Lady Eagles responded with a 9-1 rally sparked by two aces from junior Camryn Freiberg plus two kills and a block from sophomore Kaitlyn Blake for a 10-4 lead. East mustered a run of its own, erasing an 18-13 deficit with a 5-0 spurt that included three kills by senior Kayla Burling, who led the Lady Panthers with 21 on the night.
Allen stood firm though, finally staving off the Lady Panthers with the final three points of the set, capped by an ace from senior Kelly Holden to secure the win.
"We talked about focusing on the mini-games," Gregoriew said, "like being the first to five or the first to 10 and not worrying about the bigger picture. We wanted to approach it that way and closing out that set was very crucial."
"We just didn't execute, bottom line," added Steven Jones, East head coach. "The girls were fighting hard and playing hard; we just couldn't execute down the stretch. We made errors and you can't win that way."
East's eight errors in the fourth set were a match-high for the visiting team, after tallying just 13 miscues to its ledger in the first three sets.
That was because much of the early stages of the matchup were devoted to the respective offenses of each team, with both squads combining for 107 kills in four sets.
The Lady Eagles accounted for 57 of those kills, an average of 14.3 kills per set. Fifteen of those came in an opening set that saw the Lady Eagles storm the gates for a quick 18-6 advantage thanks to five kills from junior Hannah Fry, who totaled 11.
"They came out with the energy that we wanted," Gregoriew said. "We talked about that and creating that dominance, and being able to maintain it so we could get them to lose some momentum."
Despite committing just five errors in the opening set, the Lady Panthers were only able to muster just one kill in the set's first 20 points, thanks to the defensive work of Allen seniors Kate Klepetka and Kim Bell.
"Early on, we looked we had just woken up from nap," Jones said. "We just weren't awake. That first game just wasn't us ready to play."
The Allen offensive would only get stronger one set later, tallying 18 kills to East's 14. Freiberg accounted for seven of those kills -- totaling a match-high 22 on the night -- including one kill for a 13-10 lead down the right side that may as well have left a dent in the gymnasium's wooden floor.
"That (kill) was amazing," Gregoriew said. "I can't wait to watch it on film."
The Lady Panthers were game though, forcing 11 ties in the second stanza behind six Burling kills, including one kill to trim Allen's lead to 22-21 that raised some initial concern on whether it hit the antenna or not.
Burling was awarded the kill but the Lady Panthers were unable to build off of the rally, surrendering the next three points to give Allen a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Panthers averted the sweep on set later, parlaying a pair of consecutive Allen attack errors into a 16-14 lead and never looking back. Senior Sammy Myers chipped in four of her seven kills during that span.
The Lady Panthers, losers of four straight, look to rebound Friday at 6 p.m. against McKinney.
"You've got to be able to finish," Jones said, "and we can't be getting off to these slow starts, regardless of our execution at the end.
"This game mattered as much as to us as it did to them."
Allen will look to build off the win in a road tilt at Plano West.
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