GARLAND – Juxtaposed against heartache on the court of the Curtis Cullwell Center Friday, members of the Dripping Springs volleyball team couldn’t help but flash a quick smile once a state semifinalist medal was draped around their necks.
Understandably, it wasn’t exactly the color medal they had sought when they entered the weekend. Dripping Springs’ quest for a second gold medal since 2015 was dashed by a powerful and talented Lucas Lovejoy Leopards squad, who swept the Tigers in roughly an hour’s time in Friday’s UIL 5A state semifinal.
But for many of the players, getting to Garland and having a chance to play on the court was a dream come true. For those who have gone through the program, getting to a place where they saw their predecessors stamp their success solidifies their own mark in what’s become an area volleyball dynasty.
“Looking back at the start of the season, all of the early morning practices, working hard just paid off,” said senior Madison Certain. “I think that getting to the same place they did, after looking up to those girls, it’s amazing.”
Playing at the UIL state tournament was a dream made possible for junior Avery Kalsu, who said it was “unreal” to play at the Culwell Center. Kalsu, along with many of her teammates, were in the stands watching the 2015 Tigers win the 5A state title that season. Senior Madi Berkolz said it was a dream to play at the Culwell Center as well.
But Kalsu said, once on the court, it was difficult for the team to find their bearings and get into the game mode.
“It’s a difficult experience once you get here. It feels like slow motion down there. When I saw it watching from the stands, I was like, ‘everything is happening so fast,’” Kalsu said. “Being able to experience it, it’s a normal game, but it felt much slower.”
Nerves ultimately hurt the Tigers in the first set as they were unable to find a rhythm and fell into a deep hole. Lovejoy, however, sped out of the gates and captured a 25-8 first set win. Aiding the Leopards was a myriad of weapons, including sophomore Cecily Bramschreiber, who finished with a game high 13 kills. Lovejoy senior Madison Waters had nine kills, while freshman Brinkley Barket had eight.
Dripping Springs also struggled to surpass a formidable Lovejoy defense and front line that impacted their ability to score points. Tigers head coach Michael Kane credited Lovejoy for taking Dripping Springs out-of-system and forcing the Tigers to adjust.
But Kane said the Tigers struggled to avoid self-inflicted mistakes as well. Kane said the Tigers’ passing was “not where it needed to be.” The Tigers also suffered from a handful of hitting and serve-receive errors in the match.
“When we pass well, we are a formidable opponent. If we don’t pass well, and we don’t play well out-of-system, we struggle,” Kane said.
Despite those issues, Dripping Springs recovered and attempted to battle back in the second and third frames. Kalsu said the team tried to come together and talk through their issues.
“The nerves are done. Let’s play the game that we know how to play like we’e been playing the last couple of rounds,” Kalsu said.
The Leopards maintained momentum early in the second set before the Tigers mounted a rally to cut the Lovejoy lead to 16-15.
But the Leopard offense powered its way for a 9-1 run to win the second set 25-16 and further secure momentum.
Dripping Springs gathered early success in the third set and kept pace with Lovejoy, which held a 14-12 lead midway through the frame. Lovejoy sped away and closed the match by outscoring Dripping Springs 11-4 down the stretch. Certain finished with a team high six kills, while seniors Alexis Haydt and Danielle Leboviz scored five kills.
Despite the loss, Certain lauded the team’s chemistry and work ethic all season long, adding they all want the best for each other. Kalsu credited the investment made by the next generation of Tiger players, who made the trek to Garland and cheered the team on. Berkholz said guidance from parents and coaches was equally critical.
“Whenever we love something so much, we want to be successful and keep playing,” Berkholz said.
Kane said he was “super proud” of what his team accomplished, including scoring a seventh straight district title.
“The kids are in an environment of winning, our expectations are to show up and work hard,” Kane said. “And the goals are always the same in Dripping Springs, which is to get back to this place.”