By JUSTIN RAINS
The Westwood volleyball team entered the 2012 season hoping for a run to the playoffs, something it had missed by merely one game each of the past two seasons.
The Lady Panthers have accomplished that and much more.
With a 3-0 (25-17, 25-23, 25-20) win over rival Elkhart Friday, the Lady Panthers wrapped up the District 19-2A title and secured a first round bye in the playoffs.
“It’s kind of unexplainable,” WHS coach Janae Evans said. “My girls have worked for it and they truly have earned this.”
The win was the Lady Panthers’ second over Elkhart this season, and Westwood is the only team in District 19-2A that has been able to get the best of Elkhart.
But, the Lady Elks have secured the district’s second seed, and EHS coach Katie Lankford said she wants her players looking forward.
“We go to Crockett Tuesday and hopefully we can play well,” she said. “We just need to get our momentum back, because we have played extremely well (this season).”
Game 1 was easily the match’s most intense — and probably, important — game. It was tied at 15-15, after both teams had one back-and-forth with one another.
Following a missed serve by Westwood, the Lady Elks held a 15-13 lead in the game, but then Westwood turned it on.
Marialle Boles tied things up with a kill, and the run was one. Westwood didn’t give the serve back to the Lady Elks until the score was 24-15, and Westwood closed out the game two points later.
“I think it was huge,” Evans said of the win to go up 1-0. “It gave us a lot of momentum to enter Game 2 and we, honestly, didn’t play the cleanest game we’ve ever played, but my kids fought and battled back from a lot of things.”
The Westwood run continued into Game 2, and the Lady Panthers were quickly up 7-2 on what appeared to be a shell-shocked Elkhart team.
That five- to six-point margin held for Westwood for much of the game, before the Lady Elks slowly started chipping away.
An ace by Courtney Cheatham followed by a block from Robin Grant and Ryan Grimsley got Elkhart to within 20-17, and a Grant kill followed by a Westwood kill attempt that went out made it 20-19.
After an Elkhart miss made it 21-19 Westwood, Tiffany Rosas cut it to 21-20 with a kill and then the game was tied up when Westwood missed another kill.
The teams went back-and-forth from there, but Westwood edged in front at 24-22 when Elkhart missed a pass. The game was wrapped up by a Boles’ kill to put Westwood up 2-0.
“Volleyball is so much momentum,” Lankford said. “We just can’t dig ourselves in a hole.”
Westwood led throughout Game 3 and, while the Lady Panthers never pulled out to a big lead, Elkhart never really challenged either.
Cheatham got Elkhart to within 23-19 on a kill late in the game, but Westwood got the point back on a bad serve-receive from the Lady Elks.
From there, it was only a matter of moments before Westwood sealed its district title.
“You don’t even know how to explain it,” Boles said of winning the title her senior year. “It feels amazing knowing that I’m going out on a good note. There’s no way to describe how it feels.”
Fellow senior Ciara Parker had an idea how to describe it.
“It’s pretty awesome, pretty awesome,” she said.
Boles finished with a team-best nine kills for Westwood, while Markeisha Durham had eight and Benson and Natali Muniz each had six. Muniz also had a match-high three aces.
Heather Wooden led the Lady Panthers in assists with 12, while Neeli Hardison had nine.
Grant led all attackers with 10 kills, while Cheatham had seven and Grimsley six for Elkhart. Paige Huff finished with 17 assists.
Westwood has yet to drop a single game in district play, and travels to Onalaska Tuesday for its final district game.
Evans said she doesn’t want to see any let down from her team, and told them as much after the win.
“It’s a long bus trip and we’ve got to be ready and stay ready for them, because we’d like to close this out the right way,” she said.
Elkhart travels to Crockett Tuesday for its final district contest.