MIDLOTHIAN — The Lady Panthers were down two sets in Tuesday night's scheduled five-set matchup with Highland Park High School at MHS Arena, but they weren't out.
There was still enough grit to carry Midlothian High School to a win over the Lady Scots.
"I preach a lot to my kids about having grit and doing absolutely anything and everything for your teammates rather than yourself," Head Coach Teresa Dunn said after the game, gripping the edge of the scorer's table with both hands. "I think they're starting to buy in because I could see that in every point tonight. They never gave up."
Midlothian (17-9) entered the game on an eight-game win streak after topping the likes of Abilene, Duncanville and Euless Trinity High Schools in last weekend's Double "T" Trinity Tournament.
Highland Park took the first 25-15 after a 7-1 run to close the set. The Lady Scots then erased a five-point deficit and gained a 25-22 second-set advantage that threatened to hammer the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
"After the second set, I definitely thought the wind was out of our sails. It hurts when you have a 20-15 lead and just can't close out the match and then they go on a 10-2 run," Dunn said.
Highland Park took a one-point lead on its 21st score of the set and after notching seven unanswered points.
"I wanted to change things but after talking with my assistants. I didn't," she continued Dunn about her team's play in the third and fourth sets compared to the first two. "We put them all back out there and they bought in. Not changing [anything] worked out in our favor."
Dunn credited her outside hitters for their leadership and pluck. Senior Sydney Little earned 17 of her 27 kills in the third, fourth and fifth sets and junior Samantha Rodgers scored six of the Lady Panthers 12 points — via five kills and a block — in the fourth set.
Midlothian, down 2-1 to Highland Park, was on the verge of its first loss since falling to Red Oak High School in the Northwest ISD Tournament.
"They were big. The outsides tend to be my steady Eddies and their job is to always keep the ball in play," Dunn said. "All three of them are emotional leaders. They lead by example and there's such a calm when they're out there that you just know that even if it's a sophomore that's out there, she'll get her job done because of them."
With help from Kamryn Owen's season-high 52 assists, Little's 28-dig and 27-kill double-double and Aubrey Walton's near two-category double-digit production (14 digs, 8 kills), though, Midlothian roared back to life in the third.
Two pairs of back-to-back-to-back kills by Little separated by a Tara Groden ace — one of the five in the match for Midlothian — helped the Lady Panthers lead a 9-2 run and swing momentum in their favor.
Midlothian took set three 25-15, as well as set four 25-23 with the help of Rodgers' kills prowess.
In the fifth and final set of the match, and after numerous game point situations, the Lady Panthers won the set 18-16 and sealed the 3-2 home win.
Rodgers (16 kills, 4 blocks) and Aliyah Muhammad (10 kills, 1 block) recorded at least 10 kills and a block. Each tallied a dig. Kelby Buchanan added 23 digs and three assists.
To Dunn, winning a "war" against a team the caliber of Highland Park was a great way to start the week and needed energy for their 6:30 p.m. Friday matchup with Lake Highlands High School in Dallas.
"We had a really tough week scheduled and at the time, I didn't think anything of it," she said. "We had Highland Park tonight and we'll travel to Lake Highlands, which is having a really great preseason and finished in the gold bracket and top eight in all their tournaments. We're going to recover tomorrow, but then it's getting back at it and going after it hard. I hoped to get one win out of the week but after tonight, [another win] is definitely attainable on Friday."
District 9-6A Lake Highlands (11-9) will enter the weekend matchup on a two-game losing streak after falling to Richardson High School 2-1 last Friday and Sachse High School 3-2 on Tuesday.
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.