Heading into Tuesday’s Region III-5A quarterfinal playoff match, the Santa Fe Lady Indians knew they had to be near perfect to knock off No. 7 state-ranked Kingwood Park, and when they weren’t that, the Lady Panthers proved to be overwhelming en route to handing them a 19-25, 16-25, 10-25 defeat at Lee College.
“They’re a very good team, a very disciplined team, and they have an amazing record” Santa Fe head coach Jennifer Webb said of Kingwood Park.
While Kingwood Park proved to be every bit the Class 5A juggernaut that boasted a 33-5 record (and 18-0 District 21-5A record) heading into the match, Santa Fe’s miscues were just as integral to Tuesday’s outcome, as the Lady Indians totaled 57 unforced errors in the match.
“We made errors, and we just couldn’t hang in there, mentally, with them,” Webb said. “When you start making some errors and start losing points, it’s hard to come back from a deficit when you feel like they’re giants on the other side. And I felt like they were giants on the other side.”
Leading 6-3 in the first set, Santa Fe saw its grasp on the opening frame slip away as Kingwood Park put together an 11-3 run that combined net play and serving by the Lady Panthers with six errors by the Lady Indians.
An ace by junior outside hitter Kylie Verm gave Santa Fe a 3-1 lead early in the second set, and the Lady Indians kept things close until, with Santa Fe ahead 6-5, Kingwood Park’s offense exploded and Santa Fe continued to falter at points for 12-3 run that saw the Lady Panthers take control of the frame.
It was more of the same in the third set, as a 5-4 Santa Fe lead quickly turned into a huge deficit thanks to a 14-2 Kingwood Park run, which was highlighted by three aces from sophomore middle blocker Alia Williams.
Verm led Santa Fe with five kills, 16 digs and one ace. Sophomore libero Elena Dondonay added 16 digs and an ace, while senior right-side hitter Tori Smith chipped in four kills and a block.
Following a much improved season where Santa Fe (21-13 overall, 14-2 in district) finished District 23-5A runner-up and logged two playoff wins following just missing out on the postseason last year, the Lady Indians return five members used regularly in their rotation this season next year, including team leader Verm.
Webb said she has high hopes that her squad will be even better next season with this experience under their collective belt.
“I think that next year, we are going to have another amazing year,” Webb said. “I am going to demand that from my kids. They see what they can do when they put the hard work in, and I know they’re going to want to go far.
“Most of these kids out here had never been to a playoff round, so now that they’ve got a taste for it, I know they’re going to be hungry, and I know they’re going to put in the extra work for it,” Webb added.