Manvel rallies, upends College Station to take Region III-5A title

Manvel rallies, upends College Station to take Region III-5A title (Copyright (c) 2021 VYPE - All rights reserved)

HOUSTON—Manvel volleyball coach Susan Kennedy had to remind herself over and over to calm down. Chill. Just relax.

She was doing a fine job of that on the exterior. On the inside, though, her heart was racing so fast Danica Patrick would have been impressed.

"I tried to stay calm, so they can feed off of that," Kennedy said. "But I can tell you my heart was beating out of my chest. Everybody told me, 'You're so calm!' I was definitely not calm. But I also didn't want our kids seeing that nervousness."

Kennedy is apparently as good of an actor as she is a coach, because her team's wildly dramatic and intense 3-2 (15-25, 25-20, 21-25, 27-25, 15-12) comeback win over College Station in their Region III-5A championship game on Saturday afternoon at Delmar Fieldhouse was more than enough reason for short breaths and chewed nails.

The Mavericks (36-11), though, persevered, winning Region III and earning their first trip to the state tournament next weekend in Garland. They are on a 21-game winning streak.

College Station, in the regional final for the second consecutive season, saw its season come heartbreakingly short at 30-8 overall.

"This group is probably the hardest-working group I know," College Station coach Kacie Street said. "They started off strong, but when you're matched up with a team like Manvel … that's a great team that's super athletic and super fast, and it's going to be hard, no matter what. You have to take care of moments, and there were times when we missed those moments. But I'm so proud of how we played. Manvel is a tough, tough team."

Manvel was up 10-4 in the fifth set before College Station stormed back on a 7-2 run to cut its deficit to 12-11. But that was as close as the Cougars got.

Manvel finished off College Station by scoring three of the game's final four points, including a couple of kills from junior Devyn Lewis and a finishing shot from junior Lyric Jordan.

"We had to take it one point at a time and don't worry about the endgame," Kennedy said. "We'd had some miscommunication, and everybody starts to tighten up. They do want the ball in their hands, but they were just a little more afraid to swing. We had some great swings, took some chances, and it definitely could've gone either way."

The fifth-set drama, however, was nothing compared to the fourth set.

Leading the game 2-1, College Station led 22-18 in the fourth set and seemed oh-so-close to crashing down that fifth-round playoff barrier and booking its own ticket to state. But the Mavs, incredulously, fought back.

Jordan and sophomore Christian Fairbanks combined for seven of the Mavs' final nine points as they held off elimination to force a decisive fifth set. Manvel outscored stunned College Station 9-3 down the stretch.

"Volleyball is a game of momentum, and I think there were some plays they made, especially at the net blocking-wise, where they took that momentum," Street said. "We started to get frustrated in our attacking, and that momentum shift… that's where their spark came in."

Senior Mary-Kate Preston was a force when it mattered most for Manvel.

The 6-foot-2 middle had 11 kills and six blocks, with four kills and four blocks coming in the last two sets. Jordan had a team-high 16 kills and four blocks. Lewis had 15 kills. Fairbanks had five kills and six blocks.

The Mavericks' size and speed overwhelmed the undersized Cougars despite an admirable performance from College Station senior Ana De La Garza, who had a game-high 25 kills.

"More often than not, a lot of it was on our end, as far as making mistakes that we don't typically make," Street said. "That happens with pressure sometimes. Manvel did a good job controlling the net, and I feel that was a big difference-maker."

Kennedy said this is not the Manvel team she saw early on this season, when the Mavs went 14-11 in non-district play.

"We were volatile," Kennedy said. "Very inconsistent."

It wasn't until the Sept. 17 district contest against perennial regional power Friendswood, a 3-2 Manvel win, that change started taking place.

"The energy the kids had and them all playing together, it was like we started district and never looked back," Kennedy said. "Once we started district, they have done a good job of never being down, even when they're down. You never count us out. I think that that was key for us."

And now the Mavs are clicking everywhere on the floor.

Preston is a nightmare cover for any opponent. Lewis had 26 kills to pace the Mavs' 3-1 regional quarterfinal win over Barbers Hill on Tuesday. Senior Brooke Wight has emerged as a solid, consistent attacker. Senior Amari Jackson is a talented blocker.

Defensive specialists like junior Cassidy Browning have been crucial with strong passing and digging from the back row. Sophomore libero Bea Angeles is all over the floor with her hustle.

Freshman setter Kenedy Massie directed the offense flawlessly in the Mavs' 3-2 regional semifinal win over Fulshear on Friday, a revenge game for the Mavs after the Chargers eliminated them in last year's regional final.

“Our kids have started to buy-in and believe that we have several tools and hitters,” Kennedy said, “and our defense is doing great things for us.”