Struggles in matching the explosive energy of its opponent brought the Hays Rebels’ 2017 season to a swift close Tuesday in Dripping Springs.
Continued and sustained ferocity from an experienced San Antonio Churchill Charger squad proved too much for Hays to handle in a 25-22, 25-18, 25-15 defeat in the bidistrict round of the playoffs in Dripping Springs.
“We did some good things, but doing good things in the 6A playoffs isn’t good enough to win,” Hays Rebel head coach Stephanie Coates said. “You have to be able to execute your game plan and you have to be able to stay focused.”
Both teams opened Tuesday’s match at a frenetic pace, which was made evident by a wild first set that featured 12 ties and five lead changes.
Hays (28-13) got off to a rapid start by snagging a 5-1 lead over Churchill in the first set.
But the Chargers quickly battled back into contention and used a 7-2 run to lead 8-7.
From there, both Hays and Churchill traded punches and points, going back-and-forth in a thrilling battle of wills. Hays and Churchill were tied 21-21 late in the first set.
However, Churchill’s ability to come up with big plays in the clutch made the difference. Churchill closed the first set on a 4-1 run, aided by the play of Jasmine McLemore and Cate Buckingham.
Coates lauded Churchill’s intensity and how they “played hard on every single ball.” However, she felt the Rebels’ inexperience also played a factor. With only four players on the court who had playoff experience, Coates said the team was playing tight, which led to errors in the match.
“We had been getting away with that youth all year long without anyone finding out,” Coates said. “This is a different pressure than anything else.”
Churchill used its first-set win to springboard out to an 8-2 lead early in the second frame. Hays worked to combat passing issues that persisted during the match, Coates said. Hays also struggled to avoid attacking from the back row as well.
“You can’t go up against a big team like Churchill and have success doing that,” Coates said.
But the Rebels battled back on the shoulders of senior Kaitlyn Krafka and junior Catherine Croft, who helped Hays orchestrate a 9-2 run to take an 11-10 lead.
Hays continued to battle with Churchill, keeping pace and trading punches once again. But the inability for Hays to pull away gave Churchill the opportunity it needed to take control.
Tied at 16-16, Churchill closed the second set on a 9-2 run to secure momentum for good. Churchill put the match away in the third frame by leaping out to a 3-2 lead and never looking back.
Croft said the Rebels took a step back after losing the first set, which set the tone for the rest of the match.
“I feel with the way we started off, there were no jitters. But toward the middle of the game, there started to be frustration,” Croft said. “It added more adversity and it was tougher for us to recover.”
Despite the season-ending loss, Coates said the program continues to take large steps forward. With many younger players hitting the court this season, Coates believes the Rebels can use 2017 as a learning experience.
“It’s never a sprint, it’s always a marathon,” Coates said. “The girls are working hard. Next year’s team will take that work ethic and intensity and take it to the next level.”