By Moses Leos III
The third time was finally the charm in the Dripping Springs Tigers quest for an elusive state title.
An emphatic final point scored by sophomore Graceyn Tippens allowed Dripping Springs to exact revenge and claim the UIL Class 5A state championship via a 19-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-20, 15-12 victory over the Lucas Lovejoy Leopards at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
With the win, Dripping Springs brings home the school’s first volleyball championship since 1994. It’s also the Tigers’ first title in three straight trips to the UIL state tournament.
Tiger senior Morgyn Greer, in her final performance as a Tiger, saved her best for last. Greer tallied 27 kills and 12 digs en route to winning the Class 5A most valuable player award.
Tippens finished with 13 kills, while senior Madison Green had eight. Three Tigers finished in double figures for digs, with senior Alissa Johnson leading the way with 21.
Lovejoy hit the ground running in the first set, immediately jumping out to a 7-2 lead, which forced the Tigers to take a timeout.
Dripping Springs worked to get back into the set, using Greer, senior Ashley Waggle and senior Carlie Schmidl to bypass a formidable Lovejoy block.
But Lovejoy’s ability to recover defensively allowed them to stay a step ahead of Dripping Springs.
The Tigers caught up within two at 18-16, but couldn’t hold off Lovejoy’s offense, led by Emily Deschenes.
Tiger head coach Michael Kane said he worked to prepare the team for whatever happened early in the match, but he added that dropping the first set “wasn’t what we scripted.”
“We prepared them no matter what,” he said. “We weren’t going to stop fighting.”
Lovejoy continued to hold momentum into the second set, as they held the lead despite several Dripping Springs rallies.
But the Tigers continued to battle, trading points and leads with Lovejoy in a fluid second set. The set featured seven ties and five lead changes.
But Lovejoy rallied to take a 19-17 lead, as the Tigers were out of sync, and seemingly out of momentum.
Enter a tenacious Tiger defense, which held off Lovejoy’s offense to outscore the Leopards 8-1 to close the set.
Kane said that eight point run was a “pivotal point in the match.”
“We got some good breaks and had a good defensive effort, which set the tone for the rest of the match,” Kane said.
The momentum held into the third set, but Dripping Springs worked to best a Leopard defense that found a way to dig nearly every attack the Tiger offense sent their way.
Lovejoy’s Lexi Smith had 21 digs, while Jordan Fate had 12.
But for Waggle and the eight other seniors, the continued effort to swing away pushed them forward.
“Since it was our senior year, we treated every point like it was our last,” she said.
Tied a 22-22, Dripping Springs outscored Lovejoy 3-1 to win the set.
Lovejoy, however, didn’t back down, rallying back from a 7-4 deficit to force a fifth and deciding set.
For Kane, who rallied his team in the huddle, taking things one point at a time – the mantra they’ve held all year – was priority.
But the larger focus was minimizing errors which had plagued the Tigers at times during the match.
“In a game to 15, it’s about who makes the errors, and I felt like we minimized those,” he said.
Dripping Springs did just that, focusing on getting the ball to Greer, who slammed down a kill to give the Tigers an 8-3 lead.
“We relied heavily on these kids’ tenacious mentality and belief in each other. That’s been our mantra all year,” Kane said. “No one cared about who was getting points … it’s all about the team and we showed that in the fifth set.”
Despite a late Lovejoy rally to pull within three at 13-10, Dripping Springs held them off to clinch the title.
For senior Autumn Rounsaville, defeating Lovejoy, the squad which ended their title hopes in the 2014 title match, was special, yet bittersweet.
“We’ve been wanting to beat them for a long time. And just coming out there and being able to actually do it was so surreal,” Rounsaville said. “But it’s also a bittersweet moment. It was sweet to beat this team, but bitter because this is (the seniors’) last time playing together.”