Seven-Year Itch: PCA knocks off defending champs, headed to state
When Prestonwood Christian Academy junior Ashley Morgan approached the net Tuesday night there was only one thing on her mind.
"State," she said.
Morgan ensured that goal was reached moments later as she put down a kill to give the Lady Lions a four-set regional victory over defending state champ Trinity Christian Academy (25-16, 25-21, 18-25, 25-22) and send them to the TAPPS 5A State Tournament for the first time since winning the last of their three consecutive state titles in 2005.
"I knew everything we had worked for came down to this one game," Morgan said. "So when the ball hit the floor, I just started jumping up and freaking out."
She wasn't the only one as the sizable Prestonwood student section stormed the court at John Paul II.
"This feeling is amazing ... A-mazing," said Becky O'Neal, Prestonwood head coach.
There were some precarious times before the euphoria as the Lady Trojans won Game 3, 25-18, after dropping the first two sets. TCA was on the move again in Game 4 as the team counteracted its biggest deficit of the game, 18-14, with three straight points. It appeared a fourth straight was imminent when Prestonwood shanked a dig. Haley Wolken didn't give up on the play though as the junior setter made a lunging dig over the bench, which led to a Morgan termination.
"That was a huge point," said Katie Staiger, Prestonwood senior outside hitter. "But that's Haley for you; she is the hardest worker on this team."
Instead of an 18-18 tie, Prestonwood maintained a 19-17 lead.
"Me and my assistant just slid apart on the bench and Haley came charging right through," O'Neal said. "It was an amazing play and such a huge momentum swing."
TCA wouldn't get closer than two points from there as Staiger managed a kill to make it 24-21 and Morgan registered a termination for the 25-22 win.
"We wanted this so bad," Morgan said. "I think we wanted it bad last year too, but we have so much better work ethic this year."
It was evident from the beginning both teams wanted the match badly.
Prestonwood, which defeated TCA twice during district en route to a share of the TAPPS 1-5A title, appeared to have a marked hitting advantage from the start, but that was offset by the front-line presence of TCA's Kendall Werra and back-line persistence of Emma Kate Liu.
"TCA played great," O'Neal said. "Their defense, just wow ... great blocking, great digging."
Prestonwood had to adjust.
The Lady Lions established an 18-15 lead on the strength of an ace by senior Brooke Gajdica and blocks from sophomores Breana Herron and Christina Phillips, but the strength of Prestonwood in Game 1 came via a barrage of tips and dumps.
"It was kind of hard," Staiger said of being continuously blocked early, "because we wanted this so bad. But things weren't working, so we had to switch and knew from our first two matches with [TCA] that the tips would be open."
Prestonwood closed Game 1's 25-16 victory on a 7-1 spurt and parlayed that momentum into a 16-10 lead in Game 2 thanks in part to the Lady Trojans' inability to take advantage of free balls. That cost TCA once the Lady Lions broke out of their offensive funk as Herron scored a kill in the 20s with the other four points coming on terminations from Staiger. The last one gave Prestonwood a 25-21 win and two-set lead.
"I started to see some holes," Staiger said. "And I knew this was crunch time."
TCA showed why it was the defending state champion by quickly casting aside any notions of a sweep in Game 3. The Lady Trojans broke open an 8-8 tie with a string of kills from Rebecca Thornton and eventually constructed a 22-14 lead. Prestonwood couldn't get any closer than five points down the stretch with another kill by Thornton giving the Lady Trojans a 25-18 win.
TCA threatened again in Game 4 before Wolken's save turned the momentum back in Prestonwood's favor and Morgan's kill punched the Lady Lions' ticket for state.
"There is always that fear because we have lost in this regional round so many times before," O'Neal said. "But we were able to adjust, got everyone involved and I'm just ... I'm so excited right now."
Prestonwood will face fellow district champion Houston St. Agnes in the state semis at 1 p.m. Friday from the Blossom Athletic Center in San Antonio. The winner of that match will face the winner of Bishop Lynch-Ursuline in the finals at the same venue at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Lions beat the Lady Bears twice during the regular season and split with the Lady Friars to share the district title.
"This is the furthest these girls and this coaching staff has gotten here at Prestonwood before," O'Neal said, "so this match tonight should be a big confidence boost for us."
It apparently was.
"At this point," Morgan said, "I think we can't be stopped."