Friendswood started strong, struggled some and then finished stronger to fend off a rallying Leander Rouse team, as the Lady Mustangs logged a 25-18, 25-16, 15-25, 19-25, 15-7 win over the Lady Raiders in Friday night’s Region III-5A semifinal match at Delmar Fieldhouse.
“To be back in this position is awesome,” Friendswood head coach Sarah Paulk said. “The girls have wanted this since I got here, and here we are.”
Friendswood will face Kingwood Park for the regional championship and a trip to state at 1 p.m. Saturday back at Delmar Fieldhouse. The match will crown a new Region III champion, as Rouse was the defending regional champ and 2017 state runner-up in Class 5A.
The win continues the Lady Mustangs’ deepest playoff run since the last time they were in this classification back in 2013, when Friendswood made it to the state semifinals.
“I wanted us to get back to a place where the regional tournament was an expectation and it wasn’t something we were just hoping for,” Paulk said.
The Lady Mustangs came out completely locked in as the two talented teams traded points back and forth in a quality first set. It was the Lady Raiders who would crack first, as Friendswood was able to mount a late run to take control of the frame. Tied 13-13, Friendswood went on an 8-2 run fueled by offense from Nicole Scott, Lauren Hubbard, Elle McGown and Makensy Manbeck.
Friendswood never trailed in the second set, with the story of that stanza being Rouse’s unforced errors. The Lady Mustangs got their first four points of the set off of errors, and the Lady Raiders’ 14th miscue of the set, a serve into the net, fittingly ended it. When Rouse wasn’t giving away points, it was Ashlyn Svoboda and Manbeck taking them, as both had multiple kills in the one-sided second set.
The Lady Mustangs may have came out in the third set a little too calm, and that coupled with Rouse cutting down its errors significantly (just four in the third set), saw the Lady Raiders dominate the frame and reestablish themselves in the match.
“I actually told one of my assistant coaches, ‘We are eerily too calm. We have got to keep playing,’” Paulk said. “I knew they were going to come back, that’s why they’re here. I told the kids, ‘There’s a reason they’ve been here three years in a row.’”
Friendswood fell behind, 1-5, in the fourth set in a start highlighted by three consecutive aces by Rouse’s MacKenzie Huntley, and never really fully recovered. The Lady Mustangs cut the Rouse lead down to two points on three occasions, but each time, the Lady Raiders had an answer, and just like that, Friendswood found itself in its first five-set match of its entire season.
But, spectators would have never known the 2018 Lady Mustangs were in unchartered territory with how they responded in the winner-take-all fifth set.
The teams went back and forth before Friendswood emphatically closed out the match with a 9-1 run. Knotted up at 6-6, the match-winning scoring streak began with a Rouse passing error and continued with kills from Tori Weatherley, Svoboda and Scott.
A kill by Rouse’s Emery Reid would be only a minor speed bump in the Lady Mustangs’ race to the finish, as a Rouse hitting error, a McGown kill, consecutive Rouse errors and a final thunderous kill by Scott ended the match.
Leading Friendswood’s attack were Svoboda with 12 kills and Hubbard with 11. Weatherley both fueled the offense with 39 assists and led the defense with 16 digs. Svoboda and Kate Bueche each had 12 digs.