SPRING — It might look easy as a spectator, but maintaining first place hasn’t been easy for the young Grand Oaks Grizzlies in their first varsity season.
On Dig Pink night in their home gym, the Grizzlies faced a big challenge in Willis and prevailed with a 25-16, 25-16, 25-18 sweep.
Grand Oaks, playing without any seniors this year, has now won 12 straight matches — eight of which have been sweeps — in District 20-5A.
“It’s been difficult,” Grand Oaks coach Morgan Rogers said. “The hardest part especially with young players is to get them to understand the mental side of it and how hard it is to be mentally on top of your game and physically on top of your game for 12 games so far. That’s been the biggest challenge.”
The Grizzlies (30-9, 12-0), inexplicably unranked in the Class 5A poll by the TGCA, had to fight for the previous win over Willis (27-14, 6-6) back on Sept. 6. That was the only district match to go five sets so far for Grand Oaks.
“I knew that they were going to be a strong team for sure,” Willis coach Megan Storms said. “They have a lot of talent. Definitely, props to them. They came out and played hard and we didn’t quite match it tonight.”
It started with a kill from a sophomore middle blocker for the Grizzlies.
“Kamie Lohnes got us started with a great kill,” Rogers said. “She just works her tail off in the middle. We appreciate that.”
Each set was heavily-challenged early by the Ladykats, but Grand Oaks pulled away in each instance.
In the first set, the teams traded points until a 9-1 run helped Grand Oaks to a 17-10 lead.
Willis led 16-15 in the second set before 10 straight Grand Oaks points gave it a 2-0 advantage.
It was an 18-15 Grand Oaks lead in the third set before it pulled away to a 24-18 advantage and Sarah Sampson dropped the winning kill.
“We didn’t come out with a lot of energy,” Storms said. “We made a lot of mistakes and they capitalized on it for sure. Once we got down, we couldn’t pull ourselves out of it.”
Per usual, Fallon Thompson, a sophomore outside hitter, was a standout for the Grizzlies. She had 28 kills in the last meeting and dropped some mega kills in this match as well. She totaled a match-high 18 on 29 attempts.
“She was just hammering the ball tonight,” Rogers said. “Low error and serving really well is what we need her to do.”
Rogers got some great defense from another sophomore on the court. She had 13 digs.
“Our libero Ava Terry did an excellent job,” Rogers said.
Emma Soniat had eight kills. Sampson and Jordan Evans each had 11 digs. Sampson also had 16 assists. Carlie McCutchen led in assists with 18.
For Willis, Jasmine Kelly had eight kills. Bella Cantara and Kez Smith each had seven kills.
Erin Bond had 23 digs while Kelly had 15, Caroline Woodfill had 13 digs and Isabelle Sundquist had 11. Sundquist led in assists with 31.
Willis, which has made the playoffs four straight years, came into the night in fourth place, one game behind Tomball and one game ahead of Lake Creek in the standings.
“Even just in the huddle tonight after the game, we talked about how we can’t let this game translate into Friday,” Storms said. “Every game is a fight and every game is important in this district. I told them that we have to learn from this, come back and be ready to go on Friday for sure.”
The Ladykats host Huntsville Friday evening.
Grand Oaks will prepare for a rematch against Kingwood Park, the defending Class 5A state champions, Friday evening. The Grizzlies swept the Lady Panthers back on Sept. 10 at their gym.
“I’m ready and excited,” Rogers said of the matchup. “It’s fun to play good competition and push ourselves. Especially with playoffs coming up. That’s what we need and we look forward to it.”