KATY—A No. 3 seed beating a No. 2 seed in the bi-district round of the high school volleyball playoffs isn’t too often noteworthy. It happens.
But Tuesday's clash between George Ranch, the No. 2 seed out of District 20-6A, and Cinco Ranch, the No. 3 seed, out of District 19-6A, was an exception.
George Ranch didn't just enter the game with the better record. The Longhorns were 28-13; Cinco Ranch was 18-17. And the Longhorns didn't just enter with more experience. George Ranch boasted four seniors who will be playing high level Division I volleyball next fall, while Cinco Ranch relies mostly on an unheralded group of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.
And still, in the most impressive and resilient way, it was Cinco Ranch that got the best out of George Ranch at the Merrell Center, 3-2 (24-26, 20-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-10). And the Cougars didn't just win; they rallied in dramatic fashion.
Cinco Ranch fell behind 2-0 before winning the last three sets, stunning George Ranch, which had legitimate state tournament aspirations.
"Keeping calm and composed was our big thing," said junior Courtney O'Brien, who had 20 kills, two aces and a block to lead the Cougars. "We talked a lot in our huddles about 'next ball mentality.' They're going to have their kills; they have some outstanding hitters. But letting them have their kills and focusing on the next ball was huge for us. We just had to stay mentally tough through it."
Cinco Ranch (19-17) dropped the first set, 26-24, and the second, 25-20. But coach Danielle Wells made some adjustments, players preached about staying tough, and the tide turned. Quickly.
The Cougars won the third set, 25-21. O'Brien had seven kills and a block. Junior Camryn Moon and sophomore Makenna Loo were also big. Cinco Ranch evened the game with a 25-19 win in the fourth set. O'Brien and Loo once again led the way.
In the decisive fifth set, O'Brien, sophomore Emily Killam and junior Kayla Atkinson made clutch plays when needed for a 15-10 win.
"It was just executing the plan," Wells said. "Sometimes we executed, sometimes we didn't. But overall, just sticking together and don't veer from the plan. We went into a bit of a different defense those last three sets, and it was a lot more successful for us because we were keying in on certain things. That really picked us up."
Errors plagued George Ranch. The Longhorns had 24 of them in the final three sets. By the end of the game, it was Cinco Ranch looking like the poised veterans, calm and composed, as O'Brien attested, when the situation called for it most.
"Tonight, we made some mistakes, but we stopped making two or three in a row," Wells said. "I think the young ones are starting to recognize that, and now they're slowly starting to come around."
Killam had eight kills and three blocks. Moon was a force in the middle. Atkinson, the libero, made strong defensive play after strong defensive play. The serve-receive was on point.
"We were digging some amazing balls," O'Brien said. "Our setting was fantastic. We were running our middles, setting pins, and keeping them on their toes about where we were going to send the ball."
Not bad for a Cinco Ranch team that only returned two starters from last year's regional quarterfinalist.
"It's crazy," O'Brien said. "It's a huge boost of confidence."
Pepperdine commit Avery Shimaitis led George Ranch with a game-high 29 kills. Texas A&M commit Logan Lednicky added 18. Baylor commit Allie Sczech had nine. Texas Tech commit Dylan Hoskins had 23 digs and two blocks for the Longhorns, who have fallen in the first round of the postseason two of the last three seasons.