LITTLE ELM — What looked like it would be another easy sweep for Argyle on Tuesday night quickly turned into a fight to keep its season going past the Lady Eagles’ personal stumbling point.
After Argyle won the first two sets in convincing fashion, Melissa showed why it was undefeated in District 12-3A, coming back to win the third set and bouncing back from a big deficit in the fourth to force a fifth before finally falling to the Lady Eagles 25-17, 25-16, 23-25, 24-26, 15-4.
Argyle (33-10), the District 10-3A champion and No. 6 team in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Class 3A poll, will face No. 4 Longview Spring Hill in the regional semifinals at Mesquite Poteet at 6 p.m. Friday — in Argyle’s first trip to the regional tournament since 2009.
“That’s been a goal,” Argyle head coach Clark Oberle said of making it back to the regional tournament after two straight years of losing to state powerhouse Lovejoy, which moved up to Class 4A this year. “We’ve wanted to get past this round because we’ve had plenty of good teams the past few years and Lovejoy’s been a roadblock for us. It’s huge for us to get back to that point, especially these seniors — they wanted a taste of it. I think they deserve that and I’m glad they get that opportunity.”
With only four seniors on Argyle’s roster, two stood out in a big way for the Lady Eagles in the regional quarterfinal victory.
Sierra James had a match-high 16 kills to go with two aces, and setter Blair O’Brien topped her own school record with 60 assists.
James, an undersized middle blocker, gave Melissa (25-11) fits all night and had Argyle rolling early on as the Lady Eagles took the first two sets with relative ease.
“She’s not a very big middle, but she played like a 6-footer tonight,” Oberle said. “When she does something good, she gets emotional and it gets the rest of us going. Her intensity and competitiveness drives the rest of us. She’s definitely our sparkplug.”
What happened after those first two sets caught everyone on Argyle’s bench off guard, and in the long run could serve as a good lesson for the Lady Eagles, who had not lost a set since Sept. 28 against Frisco Lone Star. The Lady Eagles are 2-1 this season in five-set matches.
“It was good to have to go into five sets and win,” O’Brien said. “That kind of made us better for the long run. I think it was good for us to teach us we have to keep our head through the whole game instead of letting down.”
James admitted she and her teammates might have let up a bit after the second set, when it seemed Argyle would roll to its ninth straight win.
“We went to MaxPreps.com and compared teams and thought we should be fine,” James said. “I think we got a little overconfident. It’s good to play with confidence, but when you mess with that fine line you get in trouble, and I think we did that tonight.”
The Lady Eagles also got big nights from Brooke Robertson (14 kills), Eighmy Dobbins (12 kills) and middle blocker Katy Keenan, who had 14 kills and seven blocks.
At 6-1, Keenan gives opposing hitters fits, and that was no different Tuesday.
“She does a good job of keeping people off balance, and her presence blocking is huge,” Oberle said. “She gets in the other hitters’ head, and she knows how to score for us too.”
But in the third and fourth sets, Argyle’s prospects of breaking through to the regional tournament starting getting a bit cloudy.
Melissa rolled to a big lead in the third set before Argyle fought back and eventually lost by two points. In the fourth, Argyle led 18-12 before Melissa roared back to win the set 26-24 behind middle blocker Whitney Taylor and setter/right-side hitter Riley Duzenack, who had 13 and 10 kills, respectively.
Taylor, specifically, caught Oberle off guard with her big night.
“We started making a few errors and they started capitalizing,” Oberle said of the third and fourth sets. “Their No. 15 [Taylor] came in under the radar, and I thought she played a great match. We didn’t really expect that.
“They got momentum and took advantage, and they started playing great. We started making errors. They scared me tonight.”
Oberle said that after his team’s fourth-set collapse the tension entering the decisive set was almost too much to take.
“I was really worried — very worried,” Oberle said. “We had a six-point lead late. You’re supposed to win those. Melissa didn’t give up. My hat’s off to them. We held our composure and held strong in the fifth set and did what we needed to do.”
Oberle described O’Brien, his four-year starter and senior captain, as “calm, cool and collected all the time,” and that includes Tuesday’s fifth set.
“I knew that we could pull it out,” O’Brien said. “I knew what kind of team we were. We’ve been down in games and come back and won before, and we just weren’t going to go down without a fight. We were going to keep going.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com .