Playing more conventionally than it has most of the year, Katy used a balance attack and aggressive outside hitting to get past Bellaire in four sets, 27-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-19, on Thursday, Nov. 7, in the Region III Class 6A area playoffs at the Merrell Center.
Sophomore Maddie Waak, a LSU commit, led the way for the Tigers (32-14) with 15 kills and three aces, but her offense was more reliant on direct strikes and hitting than her usual variety of flips and taps. While this worked in the first set for Katy, Bellaire seemed to adjust in the second, and the Cardinals had seven blocks for kills in the first two sets.
Tigers coach Karen Paxton said they changed approach late in the second set and into the third and fourth sets.
“We had to move the ball around,” she said. “Bellaire is very good defensively and they have a huge block. They’ve got great defensive players, and they shut us down in some areas that are usually ‘go to’ plays for us, so we had to re-think (our offense) going into game two and game three. We moved our middles around a bit more and varied our attack on the right side.”
Katy typically employs more of a finesse attack to take advantage of holes in an opponent’s defense, but with Bellaire’s bigger front line, junior Perris Key and sophomore Jordan Gamble played bigger roles. Key finished with 15 kills, and Gamble had 10 kills and two blocks.
“I think we took advantage of being a little more aggressive in certain opportunities,” Paxton said. “Like I said, they really shut us down in some areas that had really been strengths for us, and we had to change what plays we were running. I was really proud of us mixing up our offense.”
In what’s becoming a trend for area teams, the Tigers had an exciting, back and forth first set with the Cardinals. Neither team had more than a four-point advantage, and the lead changed hands six times. Katy won the set on its third set point, as a serve by junior Abby Sherman was misplayed by Bellaire.
However, the Cardinals adapted to the intensity of the matchup and Katy’s attack, and evened the match after the second set. In the third set, Katy transitioned to attacks from the right side by Key and Waak, and hits from the middle of the net by the 6-foot-2 Gamble. The Tigers jumped out to a 19-10 lead and withstood a six-point Bellaire run to take the set.
The fourth set saw the Cardinals stake out a 14-9 lead, but Katy erased the deficit thanks to a pair of kills and a block from Perris. The Tigers took their first lead at 17-16, and outscored Bellaire 8-3 down the stretch to secure the victory.
Going forward, though, Paxton said the team needed to rebound and adjust its tactics quicker, especially as the competition gets tougher.
“The score got really tight and we were trying too hard to do some things, instead of sticking to some of the basic plan that we needed to,” she said. “But we also had some critical breakdown in serve-receive, and we couldn’t pass or get a hit going, and they capitalized on those errors. We can’t give a team a three or four point run.”
The Tigers will face Cy-Fair, the winner of District 17-6A, who swept the Seven Lakes Spartans on Thursday night. They are expected to play Tuesday night at Wheeler Fieldhouse in Sugar Land.