The Kingwood Park Lady Panthers showed their edge in experience and offensive firepower, as they claimed the Region III-5A volleyball championship Saturday afternoon at Delmar Fieldhouse in a 25-21, 24-26, 25-21, 25-17 win over the Friendswood Lady Mustangs.
“We looked like a young team, and we are,” Friendswood head coach Sarah Paulk said. “Serve receive kind of fell apart, and we couldn’t get much offense going. They have a great offensive team, and we knew that.”
Kingwood Park, last season’s Region III-5A runner-up, never trailed in the opening set, and leading 13-11, scored four unanswered points courtesy of two kills from Andie Unwin and back-to-back aces by Libby Overmyer to build a comfortable lead.
Even in Friendswood’s lone set win in the second, Kingwood Park still showed enough poise to nearly put together an improbable comeback win.
The Lady Mustangs started the second set by jumping out to an 8-2 lead in a run highlighted by two kills and a big block by Makensy Manbeck. But, the Lady Panthers were able to out-pace Friendswood, 6-1, after that to pull within a point at 9-8.
Undeterred, Friendswood built its lead back up to 18-13 helped along by three kills from Lauren Hubbard. With the second set seemingly in the bag at 24-20 in favor of Friendswood, back-to-back kills by Alia Williams sparked a 4-0 run that put the set very much in jeopardy. But, Elle McGown and Manbeck logged kills to end the set for the Lady Mustangs and tie the match, 1-1.
The third set was a tense back-and-forth affair, but in the end, Kingwood Park again showed which team was the more seasoned side. Friendswood overcame two early three-point deficits to hold a 19-17 lead after Nicole Scott’s flick over the net found a hole in the Lady Panthers’ defense.
But, then Kingwood Park took over with a 7-1 run to get to set point. Two Friendswood errors, a big block, kills from Unwin, Overmyer and Williams, and ace from Yates Barker fueled the crucial run. A Williams kill ended the set.
In the deciding set, the Lady Mustangs fell into an 0-5 hole, but managed to get the deficit down to 11-12 after a wild save got the ball back over the net and Kingwood Park hit its return out of bounds. However, consecutive Friendswood errors halted a potential momentum swing.
Leading 20-16, Kingwood Park ended the match with a masterful display. Kills by Unwin, Williams and Overmyer followed by a big block set up match point, and Williams eventually ended things with an emphatic kill.
Hubbard had a strong effort in her final high school match for Friendswood, recording team-highs in kills with 12 and digs with 15. Ashlyn Svoboda added eight kills and 10 digs, and Kate Bueche had 14 digs. Tori Weatherley led the passing game with 37 assists.
Back in the state’s second-largest classification after a four-year stint in Class 6A, Friendswood’s playoff run has already re-established the volleyball program as the perennial regional championship contender it once was on this level for many years.
The Lady Mustangs appear poised to continue to uphold that status with many key players from this season coming back next fall — including middle blocker Manbeck (junior), outside hitter Svoboda (sophomore), setter Weatherley (junior) and libero Bueche (freshman).
The team graduates five seniors — outside hitters Hubbard and McGown, middle blocker Scott, setter Haley Hubbard and right-side hitter Hayden Carroll.
“We grew a lot,” Paulk said. “The seniors did a great job of leading us, and I’m hoping some of the younger kids won’t like this taste too much to get us back next year.”