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David Minton

Volleyball: Booster shot

Profile image for By Rich Luna / For the Denton Record-Chronicle
By Rich Luna / For the Denton Record-Chronicle

PILOT POINT — Krum and Pilot Point went into their nondistrict match Tuesday night each looking to build momentum heading into the stretch runs of their respective district races.

Krum is sitting in last place at the midway point in District 9-3A with a 1-3 record. But that’s the same position the Lady Cats were in last year when they rallied to advance to the Class 2A regional quarterfinals before losing to Holliday.

Pilot Point, currently ranked No. 8 in this week’s Texas Girls Coaches Association Volleyball Poll, is 8-0 in District 12-2A with four matches left.

So when the two teams battled Tuesday, it ended up having all the makings of a playoff match and in the end, Krum pulled away in five sets, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 15-13.

“This was big to get us going,” said Krum coach Stacey Lucas, whose team improved to 24-12. “Hopefully this will give us some momentum going into the second half [of district play]. We’ve lost three straight district games and we wanted to try some different looks. We’ve been barely getting beat … no one has been killing us, but we need to get it turned around.”

Decatur leads the district at 4-0 and if Krum is going to rally, they’ll have an experienced crew. Everyone is back from last year’s team, including this year’s seniors — the first in the Krum program.

“They’ve been there before and they’re up to the challenge,” Lucas said.

Krum certainly showed its toughness Tuesday in the fifth game after the teams split the first four. The score was tied at 12 when Pilot Point’s outstanding freshman Ashtyn Richey went down with an ankle injury. A kill and then a block, both by Krum’s Savannah Brinkley, gave Krum a 14-12 lead. Brinkley’s next hit went into the net and Pilot Point was within one.

But Pilot Point’s Kirby Smith hit her next shot into the net to give Krum the victory.

Pilot Point (25-7) will be hoping the injury to Richey is not major. The Lady Cats will also have to study the 21 service errors they committed against Krum.

Expectations were high for both teams this season. At Pilot Point, the Lady Cats returned seven players, including five starters, from a team that advanced to the Class 3A area playoff in 2011, falling to eventual state champion Lovejoy.

“From the get-go, we knew we’d be extremely disappointed if we didn’t win district,” Pilot Point head coach Becky Phillips said. “We knew we’d be in a tough district, but the chemistry of this team is like none I’ve ever seen. The girls were here all summer. They all played on club teams together, and they have so much respect for each other on and off the court. They would hate to disappoint each other … they play for one another.

“I can honestly say this is the best varsity team I’ve ever had.”

Pilot Point has a commanding lead in district. Sunnyvale, which has already lost twice to Pilot Point, and Gunter are the teams likely to challenge for playoff spots. Pilot Point has lost only two sets against district opponents.

“That was a goal for us to sweep everyone,” Phillips said. “Our ball control has been unbelievable, and we’re hitting the ball very well. The tempo of our offense has gotten better, and we have gotten very aggressive. That’s going to be a key for us in the playoffs. You’re going to find a lot of teams, like Brock for example, that mix up the tempo and we need to concentrate on adjusting to that.”

Phillips cites the leadership of the returning players — Smith, Natalie Larson, A.J. Campbell, Sierra Brooks, Cassie Reeves, Abby Switzer and Feliciana Reed — for the team’s consistent play and the willingness to create a cohesive unit with six underclassmen.

“I’ve had these girls long enough that they can coach themselves,” Phillips said. “When they get to practice, there is no dragging. They know the goals that need to be met that day and they take care of business. They know how to run with it, both in practice and in games.”

Campbell, one of the senior captains, leads the team in district with 114 kills, 21 blocks, 66 digs and 20 aces. Reed, the other senior captain, leads in assists with 222. Brooks also has 20 aces.

The rising star is the 5-foot-10 freshman Richey, who has 60 kills, 11 blocks and 14 digs, and has infused the team with her all-around play. She’s already getting interest from Division I programs such as TCU and Wisconsin.

“She is such a student of the game,” Phillips said of Richey. “She’ll sit next to me on the bench and say, ‘Coach, did you see that?’ She knows the game. She’s got a reach that is unbelievable. By the time she’s done, she could be the most highly recruited high school athlete to ever come out of Pilot Point. This is all she wants to do [play volleyball].”

“We talk a lot about getting better every game as individuals. I don’t want them to focus on just winning, but on getting better in some aspect in every game. They know what’s ahead of them and they’re headed in the right direction.”