It may not be David conquering Goliath (Kingwood Park volleyball fans will hope for that to happen tomorrow), but this one will rate as an amazing comeback of epic proportions in the UIL State Class 5A record books.
Kelly Miser's Panthers trailed 2-1 in sets to Canyan Randall, a team ranked either #1 or #2 all season long (depending on the poll you looked at this season) in Friday's 5A state semifinals.
However, it was the Panthers who dug deep and beat the Lady Raiders, overcoming (among others) a 5-1 deficit in the fifth and deciding set and claiming a historic five-set victory (16-25, 25-19, 15-25, 25-12, 15-12) to give Kingwood Park a berth in Saturday's 5A state championship match against Lucas Lovejoy.
The loss ends Randall's season at 41-7 while Kingwood Park - at the UIL state tourney for the first time in program history - takes a 39-11 record into tomorrow's state final match, slated for a 3 p.m. start time at the Culwell Center. The Panthers will take on Jason Nicholson's Lovejoy Leopards, a program that knows a bit about winning state titles: the Leopards have won six state championships, all coming since 2008.
Trailing 2-1 in sets and on the brink of elimination, the Panthers dug deep in Set 4 and, tied at 5-5, ran off a 14-3 run to take a 19-8 lead. They cruised from there to force a fifth and deciding set. Elizabeth Overmeyer and Erika Willams smoked aces past Randall, with Williams' shot being the set clincher for a 25-12, Set 4 victory.
The Panthers made two unforced errors to start the fifth set, then fell behind 5-1 on kills by Randall's Addison Howard and Briana Ford, forcing Miser to take a quick time out.
"We have a drill in practice where the girls have to score five points before giving up two," Miser later revealed. "That's what I told them in that time out. Run the drill."
They did. KPHS hammered three straight kills, including one each from Searcy and Erika Williams, to close the gap to 6-5.
Erika Williams eventually tied the set at 10-10 with an ace. The two teams then - literally - traded point for point before Erika and Alia Williams combined for a block and Julia Hadley served an ace for a 13-11 lead.
After Randall cut it to 13-12, the Lady Raiders made a service error. Katey Searcy then closed out the incredible match with a powerhouse kill, giving Kingwood Park an improbable win and setting off a celebration of epic proportions on the court.
"There were some crazy plays in that fifth set," a dejected Jason Culpepper, the Randall coach, said afterwards. "We had the lead; they came back as they did all match, then the last four points just didn't go our way."
"This is a dream!" exclaimed Hadley, a senior who finished with 17 assists and three digs. "What's even better is we're all best friends and we get to share this dream together. Our goal was to win the state championship; we're now one win away."
Searcy, a senior, explained how the Panthers overcame that 2-1 deficit in sets.
"We just decided to quit worrying and bickering about our luck and come together and start being positive," stated Seary, who finished with 11 kills, 12 digs and four block-assists. "No doubt we were shocked how quickly they came out and won the first set, then Set 3.
"But we just started staying positive and taking that fourth set really set us up well."
Other contributors for the Panthers included junior Alia Williams (13 kills, one dig and two block-assists); sophomore Erika Williams (11 kills, three block-assists, three aces and two digs); senior Andie Unwin (seven kills, 12 digs, four block-assists and two aces); and, junior Elizabeth Overmeyer (six kills, eight digs, two aces and one block-assist).
Randall was led by Briana Ford with 12 kills and five block-assists; Kailtyn Glawe with 10 kills and nine digs; and, Mikah Merrill with five kills and three block-assists.
The Panthers stayed with the Lady Raiders in Set 1, trailing just 11-10 early on. But a 9-2 scoring run by Randall opened the lead to 20-12; the Lady Raiders then scored four kills and an ace to close out the set.
In Set 2, the Panthers took an early lead before a 5-1 run lifted Randall to an 8-4 lead. But Kingwood Park answered with its own 8-4 run to tie the set at 12-12. Katie Searcy, Julia Hadley and Alia Williams all had kills during that span.
The set was tied at 18-all before a kill by senior Yates Barker and another by Searcy sandwiched two Randall hitting errors, lifting the Panthers to an eventual 23-18 lead; they closed it out from there for a 25-19 win.But Kingwood Park turned the momentum solely to their side, dominating the fourth set after their 14-3 set-deciding scoring run.