MANSFIELD, Texas — The hits keep coming for Midlothian High School and its Lady Panthers, which have seemed to weather blow after blow with astronomical maturity.

It's not the 3-1 loss to Mansfield Lake Ridge High School on Friday — a third consecutive defeat — at MLHS Gymnasium that dropped them to 6-5 in District 10-5A and in a two-way tie for fourth place with Mansfield Legacy High School that stings.

It's the loss of Neville Malone, an avid team supporter and the husband of Lady Panther Head Coach Mary Malone, who died suddenly on Oct. 8 because of undisclosed circumstances.

"My heart hurts and I'm not even the one directly affected. I can't even comprehend how she's feeling," said Tanya Hydes, an MHS assistant volleyball coach who stepped in as a part-time head coach to allow Malone to arrange her husband's funeral. "In any other situation, stepping temporarily stepping into a coaching position would be fine, but in this situation, it's brutal. If it was a situation where her son was sick or she needed to run out of town for a family member, that would be different.

"It's hard not only for the high school coaches, but for those in the junior high as well because we've all become very close. She's been amazingly strong coming to games and shown some amazing inner strength, but it's been up and down. It's been a struggle to keep our heads where it should be — being there for her but also being there for the kids and helping them find strength in each other."

According to Hydes, there was an autopsy done last week, but because of the process, it will take at least two weeks for the final report. Even then, Hydes said, because of Malone's private nature, most probably won't know the intimate details of his death.

Since falling to Waxahachie at MHS Arena on Oct. 7, the Lady Panthers have suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of Mansfield Legacy and Lake Ridge High Schools. Despite the loss of the man she spent nearly 20 years married to, Malone never missed a game.

And though the 12 girls on Midlothian High School's varsity roster were a mixture of sadness, apprehension and worry, they pushed the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the district to four sets and lost a set by more than seven points — including the 15-25, 18-25, 25-22 and 19-25 loss to the Lady Eagles — only twice.

Hydes said the team is aware of the precarious position their district record puts their postseason hopes and the Tuesday matchup with Mansfield Timberview High School (15-9 overall, 2-8 in District 10-5A) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at MHS Arena, but the needs and importance of life and family far outweigh those of the sport of volleyball.

"They really do battle balancing their focus on volleyball and concern for her," Hydes said. "They're asking questions most teenagers wouldn't know to ask. They know they haven't played well and that the last two matches have been the worst they've played all season — understandably so. Life is life and a whole lot more important than volleyball. I also know that knowing winning and getting to the playoffs may help [Malone] heal faster is running through their heads. They still have a really good chance to make the playoff if they can be relentless of being of one mind — focusing on the future by being in the moment and taking care of each moment as it comes along, both for their teammates and for coach.

"The good thing is that physically, they're ready. Talent-wise, they can outplay any team in our district and she's prepared them so well that she could have missed those games and the girls still would have known what she expected. They are equipped. They just have to execute."