Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
SANGER — You can’t question the fight in the Lady Leopards.
Down two sets in a Region II-3A bi-district battle with Celina, Gainesville rallied back to win two consecutive sets only to fall short in the final set as the Lady Cats would win 25-15, 25-23, 17-25, 21-25, 15-11 at Sanger High School on Tuesday.
“It’s the story of our season,” Gainesville coach Laura Mehl said. “I’m so proud of them - I really am. We fought. I know at the end of the day we did everything we could.”
Celina will play No. 16 state-ranked Melissa in the area round later this week.
The Lady Cats jumped on the Lady Leopards (31-11) early, going up 16-11 midway through the first set before eventually using a 7-0 run to take the win.
The second set was all Gainesville before stalling out with a 23-18 lead. Kiarah Manuel helped Gainesville get to 23 with three consecutive points but Celina would use an 8-0 run to win it.
“I think nerves played a part in (the 2-0 start for Celina),” Mehl said. “Some of these girls, the only type of playoffs they’ve been in is basketball. So they came out really excited and we tried to calm them down a little bit. We finally got a hold of (our nerves) and we just couldn’t pull it out.”
Ariannah Kemp led Gainesville with 12 kills and seven blocks. Whytneigh Duffle had 10 kills and four blocks while Brittany Royal had eight blocks and four kills.
Gainesville regained composure in the third set, taking an 18-10 lead at one point on a kill from Kemp. Celina would later cut the lead to 22-17 before four straight points put the set away for the Lady Leopards.
The fourth set went a lot like the third as Gainesville controlled the score most of the time. The Lady Leopards held a 23-19 lead late before Kemp finally ended the set on a kill to give the Lady Leopards a 25-21 win in that set to tie up the match and send it into a fifth and deciding set.
In the fifth set, the Lady Cats took a commanding 7-4 lead early before Mehl called a timeout. Gainesville would battle back to make it 8-8 and later 11-11 before Celina took advantage of a couple of Lady Leopard errors to take the set 15-11.
Tuesday night’s playoff contest was the final match for seniors Sarah Gerken, Brooke McCoy and Zhanice Lane. The seniors, with the addition of Mehl, helped turn around a team that went 18-23 overall and 1-9 in district play a year ago.
“It took a lot of hard work and a lot of heart,” Mehl said. “We had to bump heads a little bit along the way but all these girls deserve all the credit. They worked so hard this season. I’m extremely proud of all of them.”