Rowlett Rolls: Eagle volleyball sweeps Mesquite to move on to area finals
MESQUITE-After struggling for much of the season, Mesquite found a new identity down the stretch.
The Skeeters won a pair of matches during the final week of the regular season and another in a play-in match against Horn to earn its spot as the fourth seed when the Class 5A volleyball playoffs got started on Tuesday.
That three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt, though, as 11-5A champion Rowlett was ready, willing and able to put an end to Mesquite's Cinderella run as it walked away with a 25-19, 25-11, 25-14 victory in a bi-district playoff game at North Mesquite High School.
The Eagles (21-13) move on to the area finals where they will face Plano, which swept Richardson on Tuesday, later this week at a time and place to be determined. Mesquite finishes the season with an 11-23 record.
Rowlett seized control at the midpoint in each of the three games, keeping the Skeeters' hopes of pulling the upset from taking on momentum.
"It (a good start) was important because Mesquite themselves pulled off what a lot of people thought to be an upset against Mesquite Horn," Rowlett head coach Sommer Johnson said. "They are very athletic, and you can expect the unexpected with them. That makes them dangerous and they were at times, so it was important to come out strong with their recent history."
Rowlett got off to a rough start against a tough schedule early in the season, but has grown since then. The Eagles, which feature only two seniors, bounced back from a district-opening loss to claim the 11-5A championship with an 11-1 record. Overall, they had won 13 consecutive matches until a warm-up loss to Pearce.
The maturity showed each time Mesquite made a run, as Johnson opted not to call timeouts, instead allowing the team to find a way to stem the Skeeter momentum.
"Unless there is an absolute meltdown, we let the kids rally together and work it out on their own," she said. "If they are in dire straits and their body language is down, we might call it earlier but they seemed to be in control tonight. We have some good leaders out there and they rally each other and get us through tough spots."
Mesquite showed early on that it came to play, as Neka Nelson had a pair of kills to turn a three-point deficit into an 8-7 lead in the opening game.
The Eagles countered by using their versatility and depth, as Taylor Bennett had a block and an ace and Brenna McIlroy and Travia Jones had kills as they surged to a 16-12 lead.
The Skeeters got kills from Nelson, Brittany Pearson and Viershanie Latham down the stretch, but could not dent the deficit as Rowlett took the opening game, 25-19.
The Eagles started strong in game two, as McIlroy has a five-point service run that included an ace and kills from Sarah McCombs and Jasmine Lewis to take a 6-1 lead. Mesquite countered with six of the next eight points, as Peyton Belt had an ace and Pearson added two blocks to close to within 8-7.
Rowlett regained control quickly, though as McCombs reeled off an eight-point service run, featuring points from Cristina Rodriguez, McIlroy and Bennett, to blow the game open at 18-8.
It was the kind of extended run that the Skeeters could ill-afford to let the Eagles have, especially multiple times in the match.
"Part of the plan was to serve aggressively," Johnson said. "Their serve-receive was not bad, I thought they did a good job for the most part, but we wanted to take them out of their offense and make them do stuff outside of their system and I thought we succeeded in that."
Mesquite got a couple of late kills from Latham, but the Eagles countered with putaways from Mandy Carmon, McIlroy and McCombs on game point for the 25-11 victory.
Jones had three of her seven kills for Rowlett early in the third game, but the game was still close at 7-7 early on. Bennett then had two of her five kills as part of a five point serving run from McCombs to give the Eagles some breathing room at 17-11.
That margin grew from there, as McIlroy added her team-high ninth kill and Carmon closed out the 25-14 win with an ace to complete the sweep.
Rowlett will now face Plano, which tied for second in 10-5A and is coming off a solid win over Richardson in the opening round. The Eagles got a look at the Wildcats back in August, but they know a lot has happened between then and now.
"We saw them play earlier in the year and they handed it to us pretty good at the Arlington Tournament, but the good news is they didn't see much of us and we have gotten a lot stronger since then," Johnson said. "We know they are a very tough opponent, they have big hitters all the way around, so we'll get a chance to see how much we've grown since the beginning of the year. But we're anticipating a good match."