Cinco Ranch showed Tuesday why it is considered arguably the top team in District 19-6A volleyball, winning on the road by playing under control and using depth to overcome an injury to a team captain and a stellar outside hitter across the net in Seven Lakes junior Ally Batenhorst.
While Batenhorst, a Nebraska verbal commit, finished with 29 kills, she had to work for every point and Cinco Ranch repeatedly attacked her on defense when she was in the back row. The Cougars withstood a sloppy second set to win the match between two 19-6A titans, 25-17, 19-25, 25-18, 25-17 on Sept. 17 at Seven Lakes High.
Cinco Ranch improved to 21-5 overall, 2-0 in 19-6A. Seven Lakes dropped to 17-14, 0-2.
Cougars senior middle hitter Madalyn O’Brien said they were focused on slowing down Batenhorst—the Spartans’ primary option on pretty much every point—as much as they could.
“We really had to keep in on her,” she said. “She’s their main hitter, so we really know to watch for her. We know what we need to do to make things happen.”
Batenhorst got kills, but by the third and fourth sets, it seemed like Cinco Ranch’s defense had worn her down ever so slightly. O’Brien and fellow seniors Danyle Courtley and Reece Vanslyke combined for six blocks for points in the final two sets, and the block also set up the match’s final point by Courtley.
It also helped that Cougars players consistently used serves to get Spartans defenders out of position and to score points. Senior Hannah Regan, and juniors Brooke Hirsch, Hayley Byrd and Eva Fitzgerald combined for 13 aces.
Cinco Ranch coach Danielle Wells said the team is struggling slightly with some new rotations because of injuries, but she still viewed its play in the second set as unacceptable.
“I basically told certain players that they need to step up their game,” Wells said. “They just weren’t playing the way I know how they could play. And it wasn’t just certain players, it was really as a whole. We all needed to do better. Zeroing in and focusing on that.”
Wells said she was pleased with the effort after that second set, and the focus her team showed with a raucous crowd at Seven Lakes. In the third set, Cinco Ranch took an early 5-1 lead, but Batenhorst scored three out of four points to put the crowd on the verge of tilt again.
However, that’s when Courtley and Vanslyke re-established the Cougars with consecutive blocks for kills.
“As far as our blocking goes, I think it got better as we got into the game, but we had to get into a rhythm,” Wells said.
In contrast to Seven Lakes, Cinco Ranch flashed a balanced attack from the wings and on service. O’Brien led with 12 kills, with Courtley (7), junior Kayla Griebl (7) and freshman Courtney O’Brien (6) also attacking.
While the Cougars’ attack was good against Seven Lakes, both Madalyn O’Brien and Wells stressed they were still working on cohesion because of an injury to senior setter and captain Aislan Lennon.
“There is that injury happening right now, and so it’s adjusting to those different sets,” Wells said of some miscommunication in the attack. “We don’t know when she’s going to be back, but we’re going to continue working with the players that we have. Right now, we’re just trying to figure out who’s going to be the best in that situation.”
O’Brien said working out a more efficient attack would be the key going forward.
“We really had to adjust and we’ve been working on setter-hitter connections,” she said of Lennon’s injury. “At first, we seemed kind of off, but I knew I had to talk to my setters so they would know what I needed and what I wanted, and they figured that out in the third and fourth sets, and it got a lot better.”