A stellar defensive effort and strong hitting from the outside by sophomore Chandler Lee propelled Taylor to an impressive District 19-6A opening sweep, 25-20, 25-17, 25-19, of Morton Ranch at Morton Ranch High on Sept. 13.
Lee, listed at 5-foot-10, played above the net for most of the night, as Morton Ranch didn’t have an answer for her strikes from the left and right wings. She finished with 11 kills, including four in a row in the third set to turn a 13-12 deficit into a 16-13 lead.
“I think it’s muscle memory and staying in position, and finding those open spots on the court, and just being smart on where you place the ball,” Lee said of her hitting, although she noted there was still room for improvement. “I hit some balls out, so I just want to put some more balls down and minimize my errors.”
Taylor coach Louise Crite viewed the group of young outside hitters and blockers as the strength of her team this year. The group finished with 27 kills between Lee (11), junior Lauren Rothe (7), sophomore Devon Carrillo (5) and sophomore Jaclyn Guerrero (4).
“Chandler is doing an amazing job of executing whenever she gets a good set, and it’s our job to make sure she and Lauren are put into those positions,” Crite said.
The young front line stymied Morton Ranch’s attack for most of the night, with senior Katrina Sanchez’s nine kills leading the way. No other Maverick had more than four.
The Mustangs had eight blocks for points, led by junior Kennedy Willoughby with four, and the back line reacted well to attempts by Sanchez and senior Samantha Copeland to tap and set to the middle. The Mustangs’ strong defense led to long rallies and repeated mistakes by Morton Ranch, with the Mavericks finishing with 27 return errors.
Crite said senior captain and libero Alexi Brown serves as a vocal leader of the back row, along with senior Kinley Carlson. Crite stressed that it was a synergistic relationship between the front and back rows, though.
“Alexi is our libero, and she’s amazing at reading the back row,” she said. “We’ve been working really hard on blocking, which makes it easier for our back row to dig because they’re able to get their feet set and dig the ball.”
However, when it came to a point of emphasis going forward, Lee and Crite both identified one trait—consistency. Although they led for most of the first two sets, the Mustangs came out flat for the third and had to rally back from an 11-6 deficit to secure the sweep. In the third set, Taylor also gifted Morton Ranch six points from bad serves.
“We need to work on finishing our game quickly, and not letting the other team catch-up,” Lee said. “We need to just put them away fast.”
Crite noted that the age of her roster factored into some of the mistakes. All of the primary outside hitters for the Mustangs are sophomores and juniors.
“I have a lot of young players, so it’s just making sure they’re staying disciplined, and when we get in tough moments making sure we don’t spiral out,” she said. “Those are errors that young players make, so we’re looking for [seniors] Kinley Carlson and Alexi Brown to go ahead and take the younger players and help them get along.”
However, Crite added that it was good to get the first win in the standings for district play, adding that she liked the potential of her team going forward.
“If they can stay in system, and stay unfrazzled, they’re going to be good,” she said.