All season long, the Decatur Lady Eagles felt this was their time.
They more than proved that to be true last weekend at the state volleyball tournament.
As they had at the regional tournament, Decatur swept away the competition, leaving no doubt that they are the best Class 3A team in the state.
In seven postseason games, Decatur only lost two sets – both coming in the grueling five-game match against Argyle.
“This is what their dream has been since we lost last year,” Decatur coach Claire Benedict said. “They put in the work in the offseason, the summer, and every day at practice. Every day they walk into the gym, they have a choice – and every day they chose to get better.”
Decatur (41-7) took down the Bellville Brahmanettes (36-7) for the Class 3A state championship, 25-21, 25-18, 27-25.
Despite the sweep, the match was close in all three sets, especially the third. The Lady Eagles had to work extra hard for that clinching point.
After trailing most of the game, Decatur rallied back to tie it 20-20. A Cooper Martin kill gave the Lady Eagles a 24-22 lead, but Bellville wouldn’t go down easily.
A 3-0 run by the Brahamanettes gave them a 25-24 advantage, forcing a Decatur timeout.
“If they go out with the momentum, it’s going to be a tougher fourth set that what we want it to be,” Benedict said she relayed to her team. “It was a battle and the willpower within them – the way they’ve been trained and the effort they’ve put in – definitely allowed them to do that.”
Determined not to go to a fourth game, Decatur scored three straight points to win the match and clinch the title.
“That was everything we wanted,” junior Stormi Leonard said. “To get to that point and almost lose that set – what we wanted to get had to be done right then.”
Caroline Lowery added, “After winning the first two sets, we got complacent and started to cruise through and we couldn’t do that,” the junior said. “They are a good enough team to beat us.”
Decatur set the tone in the first game, battling back and forth before taking control late. The set was tied 17-17 before Makayla Mayfied’s kill gave the Lady Eagles the lead.
Decatur extended the advantage to 19-17 before a Bellville timeout. The Brahamanettes came out of the break on a 3-1 run to tie the game again, 20-20.
Another Mayfield kill returned the momentum for Decatur, and they ended the set on a 5-1 run capped off by a Martin kill. Martin finished with 16 kills and four digs to earn MVP honors.
“We played hard. In game one we had some trouble with some net violations that got to us a little bit,” Bellville coach Susan Brewer said. “I thought we were moving well and in the match all the way.
“Decatur has a very nice team with a lot of weapons. We just did some little things wrong that took us out of the game.”
All those weapons kept the Brahmanettes off-balance throughout the afternoon. Mayfield, Martin and Lowery combined for 33 kills in the match.
“Bellville is a good, athletic team,” Benedict said. “We kept our offense on our side of the net contained, and ultimately they couldn’t handle that we had the ball coming from so many directions.
“We always had four hitters attacking the ball. We had a few components that we had to contain for them, but other than that we played Decatur volleyball.”
Benedict took over the program seven years ago and has enjoyed a tremendous amount of regular-season and postseason success. She eclipsed the 200-win mark earlier this season and reflected on her tenure after Saturday’s monumental win.
“It’s been a fun ride,” the coach said. “I definitely think the girls that have gone through this program have made an imprint. They’ve worked hard and every year we’ve gotten better and stronger.
“Volleyball has become more of a magnified sport in our city and the little girls are buying into it. The last seven years have been an unbelievable ride.”
Lowery ended the afternoon with 10 kills, six digs and an ace. Mayfield added seven kills, 14 digs and an ace.
Leonard handed out 33 assists, had 18 digs and put down three kills.