By Moses Leos III
SAN ANTONIO – As the finality of a straight-set regional final loss to the Alamo Heights Mules took shape Saturday, Dripping Springs Tiger senior Avery Kalsu never stopped encouraging teammates to battle.
It was all she could do to hold back a wave of tears she knew was coming. Kalsu knew the magic that had kept Dripping Springs’ 2019 season alive in a come-from-behind five set regional semifinal win less than 24 hours prior was gone.
Understandably, there was some disappointment in missing a second-straight trip to the state tournament as a result of the 12-25, 22-25, 21-25 loss to Alamo Heights at the South San Athletic Complex. But for Kalsu and her fellow seniors, having the chance to play in their third regional tournament in four seasons spoke volumes to the success they’ve enjoyed.
“It’s insane. I’ve gone (to the regional tournament) three out of my four years, but every year it’s just as sweet as the last. It’s incredible.”
“Phenomenal” senior leadership, both on and off the court, shaped how Dripping Springs made a return run to the regional final, Tiger head coach Michael Kane said. That leadership also played a vital role in the program extending its run of district dominance to eight straight titles and more than 100 district victories.
Kane also felt this senior class, as well as the 2019 team, didn’t have a moment that was “too big for them.”
That came to fruition when the Tigers excavated themselves out of an 0-2 hole in their Nov. 15 regional semifinal match against 4th ranked Gregory Portland to win a five-set thriller. That come-from-behind win catapulted the Tigers to Saturday’s Regional Final.
“I wouldn’t trade this team for anything,” Kane said. “They’ve accomplished a lot of great things. Reaching the regional finals is impressive in its own right.”
But in the regional final, Dripping Springs couldn’t contain an aggressive Alamo Heights team that seized control early and never let it go. Tiger senior Mackenzie Murray said they tried to stop Alamo Heights’ outside hitters and middle blockers, forcing the Mules into mistakes.
The Mules, led by sophomore Kylie Wickley, never faltered and wasted little time taking a quick 1-0 match lead. Dripping Springs’ best chance came in the second frame when they overcame a 16-19 deficit to tie the set at 20-20.
Heights, however, charged ahead and closed the frame on a 5-0 run to capture momentum for good. Kane lauded Heights who he said “outplayed and outworked” the Tigers on the court. While there was some fatigue associated with their five set win over Gregory Portland, Kane felt it was also an excuse. He credited a Heights team “that’s well coached” and worked hard for the win. Kane said Heights was able to push the Tigers offbalance for most of the match, while also capitalizing on Dripping Springs’ “suspect” passing.
“From the first moment they (Alamo Heights) stepped on the court, they had high energy. They wanted it,” Kalsu said.
For Murray, the moment was entirely bittersweet. Amid the highs of reaching the regional final to falling a step shy of state and everything in-between, Murray maintained her pride in the program.
“This group of seniors is my best friends. I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Murray said. “It’s sad to see it come to an end, but it’s sweet to see how far we came and how close we became.”