Even with an impressive record and a district championship under their belts, the Van Alstyne Lady Panthers knew there was more out there to accomplish. And how they were going to take those next steps was by not changing how they operate.
“We are still going to grow and learn as a team. I worry about what’s going on on our side of the court,” Van Alstyne head coach Veronica Valdez said. “It really just comes down to understanding what we are capable of. We really haven’t looked at other teams. We look at ourselves and what we can do to get better.”
The opening round of the playoffs got off to a good start for the Lady Panthers as they came away with a 25-19, 25-17, 25-21 victory over Whitesboro in a Class 3A Region II bi-district match at Sherman on Tuesday night.
Jenna Leinart put down 11 kills, Sydney Ingram added 10 kills, Liz Purser finished with seven kills and Lindi Boling collected 41 digs for Van Alstyne (32-6), which will face Grand Saline in the area round on Thursday with the location and time to be determined. It is the first playoff victory for the Lady Panthers in three years, dating back to their region semifinal run in 2015.
Sierra Parks had eight kills and 21 digs, Astra Bean added four kills and three digs, Jenna Eugster totaled three kills and five digs, Bailey Galewaler chipped in three kills and three digs, Maggie McCorkle handed out 10 assists to go with eight digs, Aubri Falco finished with eight assists and Chesney Wolf collected eight digs for Whitesboro (16-22), which was trying to reach the second round for the third straight season.
The Lady Bearcats had a chance to extend the match. After dropping the first two games, they controlled play early in Game 3, using a 4-0 burst when the frame was tied a three to take a lead that lasted for a bit. The margin was at 9-6 on a kill by Bailey Galewaler before Van Alstyne used kills by Valerie Young and Janessa Crawford for the first advantage of the game at 13-12.
Whitesboro was able to tie the score four more times, the last at 18, but could never regain the lead before the Lady Panthers reeled off three straight points, including a block by Micah Welch, that provided enough breathing room for Van Alstyne to close out the sweep.
“Whitesboro comes from a district where two teams are ranked in the top 10,” Valdez said. “Just because they were fourth doesn’t mean they’re going to be a bad team. I’m proud that we were down in the third set and kept our cool and didn’t get frustrated and were able to come back.”
In both of the first two games, Van Alstyne built up just enough of a margin to where Whitesboro was in striking distance but the Lady Panthers never allowed the Lady Bearcats to go on the run they needed to swing momentum with strong defensive work around the rotation.
“I really attribute that to two things. Our blockers work really, really hard to set the block,” Valdez said. Our libero, Lindi Boling, and Darcey Earley do such a good job of moving to the ball.”
Van Alstyne scored five of the first six points to open the match, punctuating the start on a kill by Jenna Leinart, The Lady Panthers doubled their lead at 14-7 and then Whitesboro trimmed it to five. By that point — 20-15 — trading points was only good for one side and Van Alstyne had the upper hand.
The Lady Panthers did not trail in Game 2 but the script was similar to the opening stanza. Van Alstyne had a 4-1 lead that eventually was down to a point at 7-6, only for a 7-0 run by the Lady Panthers to follow. Then Whitesboro chipped away with three straight points, the last on a block by Eugster, for a five-point margin.
Van Alstyne’s answer was to push out to a double-digit advantage which forced a timeout when it was 20-10. Galewaler had a kill and Falco followed with an ace to pull Whitesboro within six at 22-16. Purser put down a kill, Young had an ace and then Crawford finished off the game with a kill to give the Lady Panthers a shot at the sweep.