RED OAK — With the daunting task of toppling resurgent Mansfield Timberview, well-coached Mansfield Summit and always dangerous Red Oak High Schools, the Lady Panthers' chances of reaching the UIL playoffs was dwindling.
And, like dust, they rose.
Midlothian, which overcame adversity and injury during the season, reeled off three straight wins and capped the third seed in the postseason with Tuesday's four-set victory over Red Oak at ROHS Competition Gymnasium.
"The support here has been amazing. There are many factors — the kids and their desire and love for the game, the parents, the community and the administration — that helped us get us to where we are," said Mary Malone, the head volleyball coach at Midlothian High School. "That's had a lot to do with the way the girls have battled back time again this season. I think in the first match [against Red Oak], we were feeling ourselves a little bit because outside of Waxahachie, we hadn't been challenged that much. The loss needed to happen. We needed that to help humble us.
"This match wasn't only for bragging rights, it also determined placement for the playoffs. We had to make a response to the week before last."
Though the Lady Panthers outpaced Head Coach Hope Porter and her Lady Hawks 25-20 in the first set, Red Oak, which was without junior outside hitter Katie Hess because of a left-foot injury, came roaring back in the second and third.
Midlothian fended off two separate Lady Hawk rallies that turned a four-point Lady Panther lead into an 18-16 Red Oak deficit and another that evened the scored at 24 after consecutive kills by junior Serena Patterson and an ace by senior Alyssa Pevehouse. It took a late set kill by Midlothian's Sydney Little and back-to-back kills by senior Georgia Cappell to seal the second set.
"They showed their grit, consistency and discipline. I called a time out and told them, 'Luck shouldn't win. You need to be disciplined and deliberate in your execution,'" Malone said about her team's performance in set No. 2. "They needed to know they don't need to be perfect. The girls just have to not make mistakes and let the opponent make them instead. Even in the third set when we looked like we were falling apart and every person seemed like they were making a mistake and didn't show an ability to fix it, they fought back. It showed the maturity and focus and growth they lacked earlier in the season."
The Lady Panthers fell 13-25 in the third set but rebounded quickly on the fourth slamming the door on Red Oak's victory chances courtesy of four kills by Little, three of which came during a 5-2 Lady Panther run in the middle of the set and claiming their ninth district victory of the season.
Though she took National Junior College Athletics Association Region 5 Temple Junior College to the National Tournament seven consecutive years, this rendition of the UIL playoffs will be her first.
According to Malone, District 10-5A rules a tiebreaker between two teams in the same district can be decided by the number of sets won during the season series. The Lady Panthers will play District 9-5A's No. 2 team, Cleburne High School (13-1), at 7:30 p.m.Tuesday at Mansfield High School.
"We've played Cleburne this season and I've seen Granbury," Malone said. "I think we match up both teams quite well. Either way, it's going to be a good matchup and an exciting start to the playoffs."