Hungry for more, Katy starts playoff run with sweep of Travis

Hungry for more, Katy starts playoff run with sweep of Travis (Copyright (c) 2021 VYPE - All rights reserved)

KATY—This is the time of the year Katy High has been longing for ever since last year’s run to the regional finals.

The Tigers were hungry all offseason, preseason, and regular season to get back to the playoffs. They had raised the program's bar last year by going the furthest the program had been since 1993. Eager to prove it was not an aberration, they went through the motions of the regular season, sometimes methodically and most times exceptionally, with a much bigger picture in mind.

"We are a completely different team this year, just because we have so many new people," senior libero Izzy Denton said. "It took a while for us to mesh and have that cohesiveness as a team, versus last year when we were together every single day, and maybe more motivation and drive because of COVID.

"This year, we had to go back to the basics and re-learn how to play with each other. Like any team, we've had our rocky moments, but we've gotten through those well and we're leaning on each other a lot more."

In its Region III Class 6A bi-district playoff Monday evening against Fort Bend Travis, Katy played like it. The Tigers swept Travis 25-12, 25-21, 25-16 to advance to the area playoffs against Cy-Creek later this week.

Katy improved to 28-18 overall with the win.

"It feels good," senior setter Maddie Waak said. "We lost some people last year, but we gained some new people as well. I think we can go just as far as we did last year."

The Tigers are loaded.

Katy has four NCAA Division I verbal commits for volleyball in Waak (LSU), Denton (Southeastern Louisiana), Chandler Lee (New Orleans) and Jordan Gamble (Northwestern State); five, if you include Kailey Wyckoff, who is going to Stephen F. Austin for softball.

Asked if there might be pressure to squeeze every ounce of potential out of such significant talent, Katy coach Karen Paxton agreed, adding it comes with a necessary balance.

"I think there's pressure with everything," Paxton said. "You have to find a balance in intensity. If it's too intense, the pressure can get to you, and if it's not intense enough, then we have to find ways to turn it on. Having the right personnel and right mindset is really key for our coaching staff right now. It's OK to take risks and make mistakes, but as far as the level being elevated, it's time."

The Tigers had a lot of good go their way against Travis. Some key takeaways:

>> Katy showed off its wealth of firepower. Gamble had 12 kills, four blocks and an ace. Lee had 11 kills. Waak and junior Maddy Chaapel had seven kills each. Waak expertly executed the offense and had three blocks as well. "Whenever you have a group that sees success like we did last year, and we carry that over, the intensity level definitely picks up toward the end," Paxton said. "We have a lot of really strong leaders and getting everyone to buy-in at this point is huge for success."

>> Perhaps Katy's biggest star was Denton, who had seven aces along with her usual dominant play on the back row. "I have a very consistent routine that's pretty much superstition at this point," Denton said of her serving. "I notice every time I mess up my routine, I end up missing my serve. That could be more of a mental thing than anything, though." Denton bounces the ball three times, spins it, and then tosses it up for a swing. "Izzy is a solid server for us and has come in and changed momentum in several matches for us this year," Paxton said. "Not only on defense does she keep us in rallies, but she turns things around with serving. She showed tonight what she's capable of."

>> The turning point of the game came in the second set. Trailing 18-12, Katy fought back behind three kills from Gamble to tie it at 18-all. That's when Chaapel flew toward a ball on Katy's side of the court headed out of bounds, saved it back into play by punching it back in with one arm, and stopped short of almost crashing into press row on the sideline. The Tigers eventually got the point on the rally for a 19-18 lead. They went on to win, 25-21. "I realized once I turned around and the ball wasn't on our side of the court anymore, I was like, 'Oh, shoot. We can still get this point,'" Chaapel said. "I just tried to do my part and got to the ball. I almost killed myself getting to it."

Waak said "everybody played their part." And that's what Katy will need, she said, if it wants to meet its great expectations.

"We all have to be in it together," Waak said. "If we're not in it together, we're not going to go far. The family aspect is what pushed us as far as we went last year. It's been good this year. We can get better, like anyone, but it'll only improve as the season keeps getting better for us."

Paxton is encouraged by what's she seen.

"We're really starting to put things together," she said. "I feel like we turned a corner going into the playoffs, and it's kind of like, OK, here we go."