Over the course of five sets Friday, the Hays Rebels and Westlake Chaparrals battled for district supremacy in a match that mirrored the ferocity of the playoffs.
But Rebel struggles to finish in the clutch opened the door for Westlake to escape with a 22-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-19, 17-15 win at Bales Gym.
Westlake (23-15, 7-1) claims a hold of first place in 25-6A with the victory, while also obtaining a tiebreaker against the Rebels. Meanwhile, Hays (25-11, 5-2) falls into second place with only five games left in the regular season.
Hays relied heavily on the play of Catherine Croft and Kaitlyn Krafka, who combined tallied 42 of the team’s 62 total kills in the match. Rebel senior Kacie Hall and sophomore Ryann Torres both finished with six kills each.
It was the play of libero Kayla Tello and the Rebel defense that kept Hays afloat during the entire match. Tello tallied 34 digs and was pivotal in keeping standout Westlake outside hitters Holly Campbell and Madi Baptiste in check.
Aiding Tello was a defensive effort on the back row that was equally as stingy against Westlake’s high-powered offense. Hall said the Rebels played “one of our best games from the back row.”
Tello said the team practiced on taking away much of Westlake’s offensive tactics, which included cross court strikes.
“We played super good. We had a lot of energy, but we fell short at the end,” Tello said.
Each team scored a set before the Rebels got the upper hand in the third set.
Hays gathered a 15-9 lead in the third set, only to have Westlake go on a 7-1 run to take a 16-15 lead.
The Rebels closed on a 10-3 run to win the set and gathered momentum right back. Kills by Krafka, Hall and Croft aided the effort.
Hall said the focus was getting Westlake out of system and using it to the team’s advantage. Hitting open spots was also a key point of emphasis during practice.
“When you get up to hit, you have to see where the block is and know where to score, and being mentally strong and trying to get the kill,” Hall said.
Westlake, however, didn’t go away and responded by winning a competitive fourth set that featured five lead changes.
Fierce competition maintained into the fifth set as the teams went point-for-point in a terse battle.
Hays gained the upper hand late when the team earned a 12-10 lead that was gained via back-to-back points scored by Torres, who led the team with 55 assists on the night.
Westlake turned to Sam Bray and Campbell, who proved too much for Hays to limit.
The duo led Westlake on a game ending 7-3 run. Bray finished with 13 kills in the match.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Hays now centers its gaze on attempting to reach the postseason.
Only three games separate the top five teams in the district with five games left in the season. All are vying for the four available playoff spots.
Hall said getting back to work and preparing for the next match is priority.
“We played our best. That’s all that matters,” Hall said. “It didn’t go our way, but we’ll have other opportunities in the future, and those things could lead to bigger opportunities.”