Paris outlasts North Lamar, breaks third-place tie in 4-set thriller
This year’s crosstown showdown volleyball rivalry featured a trilogy of matches for the second year in a row. This season, the stakes of the third match were much higher.
Last season, North Lamar took down Paris in a best-of-three semifinals match in the pre-district tournament action. This year, the Paris Lady Wildcats and North Lamar Pantherettes faced off one final time before the postseason at Chisum High School on Monday night. The crosstown rivals were tied for third place in the district standings and needed to break the tie with a rubber match.
“We knew we were going to have to give it our all this game and come out with a win because we knew that it was either Lindale or Bullard,” Lady ’Cats junior libero Bella Hill said. “We played Bullard before and came out with a win in five sets. Our mindset was to play it smart, get the ball in the court, and keep our intensity up.”
The trilogy match was thrilling and intense from the opening serve in a crowded Mustang Gymnasium. Both teams knew the postseason implications and, fittingly, each team split the first two sets as they split their two district meetings.
A momentous win for Paris
However, the Lady ’Cats found another gear and were able to turn the match around in their favor. Paris needed to hold off an inspired and furious North Lamar rally late, but the Lady ’Cats held on in four sets. The final score was 25-16, 21-25, 25-17, and 26-24.
“When North Lamar did start doing good things, the momentum started to kind of go down and switch. But, they knew what was at stake,” Lady ’Cats head volleyball coach Ashley Green said. “They knew they had to turn it around and figure out a solution because we can’t be down so many points and expect to come back. That’s a tall order when you’re going up against a good team like that. They came back in the fourth set and stuck together, which is awesome for them, even though the game seemed closer to being finished.”
Lady ‘Cats strong out of the gates
Paris impressed early by jumping out to an early 13-5 lead. The Lady ’Cats’ 13th point came off a big kill from versatile junior setter Lilly Lewis. The first of Lewis’ seven kills forced a quick timeout call from North Lamar head volleyball coach Sara Beth Upchurch. However, Paris continued to gradually pull away for the opening-set win. Dynamic junior outside hitter Macey McAmis punctuated the first-set win with a loud kill down the line.
Enter North Lamar; Pantherettes deliver a nice response
Then, the Pantherettes started cooking on the court.
North Lamar was the aggressor in the second set. The Pantherettes put early pressure on Paris with an opening 9-6 run. Paris was forced to burn a timeout in an attempt to get back on track. Following a strong kill from Pantherettes junior middle blocker Hannah Titlow, Paris trailed 10-8. After that point, Paris stayed within two to three points until the end of the set. When senior middle Hannah Gibbons recorded a kill to cut the deficit to 20-17, the Lady ’Cats padded North Lamar’s lead with two unforced errors. Trailing 22-17, Paris called its final timeout of the set.
North Lamar senior Ashley Trenchard pounded a kill to Paris’ side of the court to make it 23-18. The Lady ’Cats managed to crawl back within three points at 24-21 following a block and kills from Lewis and junior middle Presli Chapman. However, North Lamar senior outside hitter Macy Richardson put an end to Paris’ comeback hopes with a big kill to end the victorious set for the Pantherettes.
Paris tips the scales in a see-saw affair
In the pivotal third set, North Lamar was still running off momentum and fuel from its second-set victory. The Pantherettes opened up a 10-7 lead following a back-row kill from senior libero Noel Rainey. This time, though, Paris broke through.
McAmis scorched a ball down the line and Lewis followed with a kill and an ace to tie the score at 10-10. Eventually, Paris got some breathing room at 18-14 following an ace from sophomore setter Eva Vogt. North Lamar tried to slow things back down with a timeout, but Paris was not stymied on its way to the finish line in the match’s third set.
Things looked bleak early for the Pantherettes in the fourth set. Paris built a 16-6 lead and it seemed like the Lady ’Cats would cruise to the end. Trenchard punished a ball on a solid attack with her team trailing 18-11. However, Paris junior defensive specialist and standout soccer player Ashley McGuire stepped up big for her team. McGuire skillfully dug the hard-hit ball that allowed for another McAmis kill. The huge play seemed to be the back-breaker of the tie-breaker as North Lamar called timeout.
A wild and thrilling finish
North Lamar had other ideas, though.
Richardson, one of the Pantherettes’ four seniors, sparked a thrilling late rally when all seemed lost. Trailing 22-14 after a Chapman block, Richardson’s kill on the next point sparked a 5-1 run. Paris called a timeout to try to regroup with a 23-19 lead. However, Richardson and company were not done. She aced the Paris defense, then junior middle Hutton Pointer and Trenchard recorded back-to-back kills. Feeling the heat, Paris burned its last timeout with its lead dwindled to 24-23.
An unforced error by Paris sent the gym and the attending North Lamar populus into a frenzy. The score of the fourth set was tied at 24-all. The energy shift was stark in contrast to the atmosphere just minutes earlier. However, with the pressure on level 11 out of 10, Paris found a way to win. North Lamar hit a ball into the net and McAmis finished it off with an exclamation-point kill to end the thrilling match in four competitive sets.
A hard-fought battle until the end
North Lamar impressed in crunch time and continued to battle on every single point. The team’s defensive play, effort, and energy were aspects on display the Pantherettes’ head coach noticed.
“Our serve-receive was actually really good tonight, and I thought our defense was solid, too,” Upchurch said. “Once we were getting in a rhythm, putting the ball away, and being aggressive, good things were happening. We just had too many unforced errors when we kind of had some pressure on us. I thought our defense played well tonight, though.”
Not only was it a strong test for the Lady ’Cats, but also what they hope is a springboard-type of game for them. Recording a win of this nature against a familiar foe was also an added bonus.
“It feels good to have a win going into the playoffs — it was a needed confidence booster for us,” Gibbons said. “You know, they beat us once and we beat them once. We wanted to be the next ones to win, so this one feels really good.”
As Paris’ lone senior, Gibbons reflected on the development of the crosstown rivalry era she has taken part in. With that, she has enjoyed seeing everyone both on her side and across the net of Monday night’s match take big strides during their years playing volleyball with and against one another.
“Even for the seniors on the North Lamar side, it’s crazy to see how much they have improved, too,” Gibbons said. “It’s crazy how much better everyone on both sides has gotten over the years. Going into this game, we wanted it. We’ve had back row troubles in the past, but we didn’t in this game. We knew we had to go for everything, and we did not let a lot of balls touch the ground. The effort from everyone was great.”
The only way forward is together
Collective effort is also something at the forefront of Green’s focus. She knows the only way to succeed is together with all hands on deck.
“For all of us, performing under pressure has to be from everyone,” Green said. “When Ashley (McGuire) got that really good dig, we need that. It can’t just be Macey (McAmis) here and there, it can’t just be Hannah (Gibbons) — it has to be all of us together to win those tough matches and keep going. I think we got back in our groove when everyone was contributing and making plays. We finished with a lot of energy.”
McAmis paced Paris with 13 kills, 5 digs, and 2 blocks. Lewis was key in the win with 7 kills, 20 assists, 5 digs, and 2 aces. Gibbons added 6 kills, 6 blocks, and 2 digs. Chapman made her presence known with 9 kills, 1 block, and 1 ace. Vogt chipped in with 1 kill, 18 assists, 2 digs, and 1 ace. McGuire had 4 digs and sophomore middle Ava Tidwell registered 2 kills and 5 blocks. Sophomore Reece Reavis totaled 2 kills, 1 ace, and 2 blocks.
Trenchard led North Lamar in the loss with 11 kills, 1 dig, and 1 block. Richardson was a spark for the Pantherettes throughout, finishing with 3 kills, 8 digs, 4 blocks, and 1 ace. Rainey anchored the defense with 23 digs to go with 1 dig, 1 assist, and 2 aces. Senior setter Emma Doyal poured in 12 assists, 5 digs, and 1 ace.
Titlow recorded 6 kills, 4 blocks, and 1 dig, while junior defensive specialist Emma Layton added 5 digs. Freshman twins Lauren and Logan Dority combined for 2 kills and 11 blocks. Freshman setter Malea Holbrook finished with 14 assists and 3 digs. Pointer tallied 3 kills and 3 blocks. Erika King chipped in with 2 kills, 1 dig, and 4 blocks and Maddie Walters recorded 1 kill, 1 dig, and 2 blocks.
Postseason implications of the trilogy match and each team’s bi-district mindset
As previously mentioned, the win for Paris broke a third-place tie in the district standings with North Lamar. The third-seeded Lady ’Cats and fourth-seeded Pantherettes each have bi-district games against top-15 opponents. Paris will rematch No. 13-ranked Bullard and North Lamar will face second-ranked Lindale.
With a tough bi-district test in front of both teams Thursday night, each coach showered their girls with praise. For North Lamar, it is all about the team’s character, and Upchurch expressed her appreciation.
“I’ve never asked them to win every ball game or every set, but I have asked them to give 110 percent for every ball,” Upchurch said. “I’ve asked them to outplay their opponents as in outhustle and give more effort than their opponents, and I feel they have done that. They have done everything that has been asked of them, but sometimes it just doesn’t fall your way. They are respectful, classy, and they have more sportsmanship than a lot of teams. There’s not another group that I would want to win or lose with than that group.”
For Paris, there is familiarity with their bi-district opponent along with previous success. Regardless, Green wants to see all of her girls execute to pull off this upset again.
“It feels good and the confidence for us to be able to say, ‘Hey, we play Bullard on Thursday. We’ve done it before but we know it’s not going to be easy. We know they’re going to come out and want revenge,’” Green said. “It’s going to be a neck-to-neck game — I just feel it, you know? But, we’ve got to be the ones to overcome the pressure, be able to find those holes, and play good defense. We need to put ourselves in good situations with everyone playing their best.”
The Lady ’Cats will take on No. 13-ranked Bullard in the bi-district round in a rematch from a game in Bullard earlier this season. Paris won the match in five sets in early September. Now, the teams will square off again at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wills Point High School.
Meanwhile, the Pantherettes will face No. 2-ranked Lindale in the bi-district round at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Vernon High School. For more sports coverage, click here.