MESQUITE — Sierra James failed the first time she stepped to the service line in a decisive fifth set Saturday with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
The next time the Argyle senior’s turn in the rotation came up was a different story.
James served the final five points of the match for Argyle, including two aces, en route to a 17-25, 29-27, 25-18, 15-25, 15-9 win over Decatur in the Class 3A Region II final to help send her team to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s 13-year history. James finished with eight kills, six pivotal aces and six digs.
“After a mistake, you have to be able to erase it and keep going, and that’s what I did,” said James, who looked dejected after her early serve went into the net before sitting on the bench by herself. “I’ve always been taught that way, just to erase it completely and leave it and start over.”
The match pitting Decatur, No. 3 in the Texas Girls Coaches Association state poll, and No. 6 Argyle provided a long list of things that went wrong for Argyle, but none of them was enough to stop Argyle from beating a team ranked ahead of it for the second straight day to advance to the state tournament Friday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, where Argyle will play at 1 or 3 p.m. against an opponent to be determined by seeding.
The match got off to a dominant start for Decatur (42-4), which used its front line of Cooper Martin, Makayla Mayfield and Caroline Lowery to race to a fairly easy first-set win as Argyle seemed to have trouble hitting past Decatur’s block and Decatur seemed to dig everything Argyle managed to put down.
In the second set, Argyle (35-10) managed to take a 24-21 lead with three set points but needed some extra time to pull even in the match by eventually taking the set 29-27, avoiding what would have been a significant collapse, and deficit.
Argyle head coach Clark Oberle said he already had thought of the importance of the pivotal set before it ended.
“I was thinking toward the end of that one, if that one got away from us we were going to be in a lot of trouble being down 2-0 with a lot of pressure on us,” said Oberle, the only coach the Argyle program has known. “I knew that was important to win, and my girls have been mentally strong, especially lately. They have never panicked or put too much stress on themselves. They made plays when they had to. We were really fortunate to get that one and even it up. Then we could almost start over after that bad start in the first set.”
The final two points of that second set came on a tip from freshman Eighmy Dobbins and another from senior captain Blair O’Brien, Argyle’s lone four-year starter.
Dobbins finished with 15 kills and five digs, while O’Brien dished out 56 assists and had 15 digs. Middle blocker Katy Keenan had 14 kills and two blocks, and outside hitter Brooke Robertson had a team-high 18 kills.
After Argyle hit the proverbial reset button with the second-set victory, it stormed out in the third set and won 25-18, seemingly snatching the momentum and possibly setting up a win in four sets, but that didn’t happen.
“I was hoping we could’ve kept the momentum and won in four because it’s a lot less stressful,” Oberle said. “I thought we did have momentum and felt like we’d get it done, but Decatur wasn’t ready to go away yet.”
Decatur was not ready to concede in the fifth set either, as it took an early lead before Argyle started pulling away.
Then James stepped to the line with a 10-9 lead, and the rest was literally history.
“Being the first time [to go to state], it’s something as a coach, or even when I was an athlete in school, that’s something you strive for every day when you wake up during the season — doing what you can do to get to state,” Oberle said. “It’s been such a motivation over the years, and to finally get there just feels incredible.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.