THE WOODLANDS — The quest for supremacy in District 15-6A reached its pinnacle on Tuesday.
The Woodlands and Klein clashed for a battle between state-ranked teams, and the Lady Highlanders emerged with a 25-17, 18-25, 25-16, 25-21 victory to grab sole possession of first place.
Klein earned a sweep against The Woodlands on Sept. 13 at home, joining No. 1 Flower Mound and McKinney Boyd as the only teams to beat the Lady Highlanders this season. The Woodlands entered this week as the No. 2 team in the TGCA rankings, while Klein came in at No. 13.
This time around, the defending district champions got their revenge. The Woodlands (40-3, 12-1) has now won nine consecutive games since that loss to the Lady Bearkats (33-6, 10-2). The Lady Highlanders were without freshman standout Julieta Valdes during the first meeting, but she was on the court Tuesday and provided a boost.
“I think having the home court advantage [was key] because they certainly had an advantage when we played there,” The Woodlands coach Terri Wade said. “With your support and the crowd and everything like that, you’re hoping you can get the momentum of the game. Having Julieta return -- she was sick the first game, so we definitely needed her offense and her block, and she also served amazing tonight.”
Dylan Maberry and Amanda Ifeanyi led the attack for the Lady Highlanders with 18 kills apiece. Maberry also added 14 digs, and Ifeanyi provided three blocks. Clara Brower collected a double-double with 40 assists and 10 digs, and Valdes added four kills and three aces. Jackie Lee had 22 digs and three aces, and Allie Griffith had 16 digs.
The Woodlands and Klein battled closely in the early stages of the opening set, but with the scored tied at 7, the Lady Highlanders made their move. The Woodlands tallied eight consecutive points and grab a 15-7 advantage and never looked back. The Lady Bearkats pulled to within four of the lead at 20-16, but that was as close as they would get as the home team held on for the win.
“I think we used our middles well,” Wade said. “Amanda Ifeanyi was just lights out. She definitely knew where she needed to place the ball, and she used it time after time, and that’s what we needed.”
Klein nearly led wire to wire in the second set, aside from an early 4-4 tie. The Lady Bearkats led 13-9 before reeling off five straight tallies for an eight-point advantage. The Woodlands fought back and got within three at 21-18, but the visitors put down the final four points for the win.
The Lady Highlanders took control of the match in the third set, finding some separation with a late 5-0 spurt that put the team ahead 21-14. The Woodlands had little trouble from that point on as the team closed out the game and took a 2-1 advantage for the match.
“It’s always tough to play on someone’s home court, especially when you’re playing a really good team,” Klein coach Kate Zora said. “We knew they were going to battle back and fight hard.”
The two teams were tied at 21 late in the fourth and final set before the Lady Highlanders scored three straight points to go ahead 24-21. Zora took issue with a touch call on the 24th tally, and after a couple minutes of deliberation between the officials, the decision stood - point for The Woodlands. Zora was then issued a red card for her reaction to the call, and the Lady Highlanders were given the winning point.
“The call that was made was a late call with regards to a touch,” Zora explained. “So they called it over, and my question to our captain was to ask the question of who made the touch. They just came back, and according to the R1, he just said that he didn’t know who made the touch, so that was my issue with it - someone should know exactly who touched the ball if we’re going to make a touch call. But I mean, it is what it is.”
The Woodlands has three district matches remaining on its schedule - road battles against Conroe and Klein Forest and a home contest against Klein Collins. The Lady Highlanders also have a non-district match against St. Agnes Academy during their district bye on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
The Woodlands begins the final stretch at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Conroe.
“I think we still have some competitive matches left,” Wade said. “We have our bye game against St. Agnes, and they’re really competitive, and we’ll have a competitive warmup when we schedule that. So just having that competition, the playoff atmosphere and a push from the opponents - we need that to keep going.”
Klein has four district matches remaining - on the road against Klein Forest and College Park, and at home against Klein Collins and Oak Ridge. The Lady Bearkats host Klein Collins at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
“Obviously, you don’t want to peak early, so you just want to make sure you’re in good shape for the playoffs,” Zora said. “The biggest thing is making sure we respond well from this, let it kind of fuel our fire a little bit, and let our preparation go along with it. We’ll probably face (The Woodlands) again. We’re hoping we’ll face them again, and it’s one of those things where we want to be ready.”