Soaring to a 2nd state title; Decatur defeats Argyle in 4A volleyball championship

Soaring to a 2nd state title; Decatur defeats Argyle in 4A volleyball championship

When sophomore Courtnie Roberts’ tip found an open spot on the floor, the Decatur Lady Eagles stormed the court at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland Saturday afternoon.

Piling in the center of the floor, the Lady Eagles celebrated their second consecutive state volleyball title. Decatur beat rival Argyle in four sets, 25-14, 27-29, 26-24, 25-19 at the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships.

Storming the Floor

STORMING THE FLOOR – Decatur players pile at midcourt after the last point of Saturday’s 4A Final. Decatur beat Argyle to win its second state title. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It’s one of the sweetest feelings you could have, to finish our run as Eagles, win and get the gold medals,” said Decatur senior setter Stormi Leonard.

The victory closed out a 40-10 campaign for the Lady Eagles and sent seven seniors out as state champions – including four who were on varsity four seasons.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team. These four led the way,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay, nodding to Leonard, Makayla Mayfield, Cooper Martin and Caroline Lowery in the post-match press conference.

Emotional Win

EMOTIONAL WIN – Cooper Martin and Dylana Hutchins embrace after the Lady Eagles’ win Saturday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Mayfield earned the 4A finals MVP honor after putting down 21 kills on 52 attacks. She also made 16 digs and served a pair of aces.

“This year we really wanted it, because we knew it would be tough to do it again,” said Mayfield. “We wanted to accept that challenge to go out and win another state championship.”

Leonard and Martin joined her on the all-state team.

In front of a huge crowd split between Decatur blue and Argyle red, two of the state’s best programs met for a third straight postseason with the 4A title on the line.

Winning Embrace

WINNING EMBRACE – Decatur senior Cooper Martin hugs teammate Presley Gibson after the team receives their gold medals Saturday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur took the first set by 11 points with seven kills from Mayfield.

Decatur had the chance to go up two sets, getting to set-point three times in the second game. Argyle stole the game on a Decatur error.

Argyle led most of game three and reached set-point at 24-21. Decatur then went on a 5-0 run to win the set and take a 2-1 lead.

“I don’t know,” Lowery said trying to explain the team’s rally. “We had to dig deep for that one. It was super intense.”

Riding that momentum, Decatur finished off the match in game four.

“We played good, but they played great. They played a phenomenal match, and they deserved it,” said Argyle middle blocker Katy Keenan.

Decatur was one of two repeat champions, joining Conroe The Woodlands in 6A.

“This was a bigger deal because it was our last time together,” Lowery said.

A special section chronicling the Lady Eagles’ quest for a second state title is inserted in this edition of the Messenger.

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Volleyball: Back on Top – Lady Eagles reach goal, repeating as champs

Before starting the daunting task of defending a state title, Decatur senior setter Stormi Leonard pointed out her team might not be No. 1 all season with the tough road ahead.

But she also said the goal was the same as last year for her and the 11 returning players – including seven seniors.

Lifting the Trophy Again

LIFTING THE TROPHY AGAIN – The Decatur Lady Eagles celebrate second state title. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It’s hard to believe this is our last year,” Leonard said in July during the team’s preseason camp. “Our goal is to win state and take it all in.”

On the state’s largest stage at the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, the Lady Eagles were once again back on top. Decatur closed out a second straight 40-win season with a 4A crown by defeating longtime rival Argyle.

“This year we really wanted it because we knew it would be tough to do it again,” said Makayla Mayfield, who earned the MVP honor in the state final. “We wanted to accept that challenge and go out and win another state championship.”

At times, the Lady Eagles made it look easy but there was adversity. Playing in 6A showcase tournaments such as the Adidas Texas Volleyball Invitational, the Northwest ISD Volleyball Classic and PSA Lone Star Circle of Champions, the Lady Eagles managed to win two-thirds of their 30 matches against larger schools before entering district.

They also had to restructure their lineup after the loss of returning middle blocker Dylana Hutchins, who suffered a season-ending back injury.

A sweep at the hands of Coppell Sept. 16 was the final loss for the Lady Eagles. They won their next 20 matches – all but three in three games. Decatur rolled its district winning streak to 56 matches.

In the region final, after dropping the first set, the Lady Eagles rallied to win three state and eliminate last year’s 2A champions – Bushland.

Then in the state championship match against rival Argyle – a team they had faced the previous two postseasons – the Lady Eagles proved again their resolve. At set point in the pivotal third set, Decatur fought back with five straight points to take the game.

“I can’t describe what happened during that set because it was so crazy,” Leonard said. “We knew what it was like after losing that second set so close. That third set, something lit under us. We knew we had to finish it. We didn’t want to go five and weren’t going to go five.”

A set later, the task was complete. The state title trophy was back in their grasp.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team. These four led the way,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay, nodding to Leonard, Mayfield, Cooper Martin and Caroline Lowery in the post-match press conference. “They’ve been on varsity four years. They put up with me for four years, which is a feat in itself.

“I’m very hard on them. I have high expectations of them. They’ve led this team to what they wanted to end their careers at Decatur. I’m very proud of them.”

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Volleyball: Doubling up – Lady Eagles hold off Argyle to win second state title

Trailing Argyle 24-21, the Decatur Lady Eagles found themselves on the verge of falling down 2-1 in the 4A final Saturday.

But the defending state champions refused to let the set get away. Starting with a Cooper Martin kill, Decatur went on a 5-0 run to take the set 26-24 on a tip from Caroline Lowery.

What a Rush

WHAT A RUSH – Decatur players storm the floor and pile onto teammates after the final point of Saturday’s Class 4A title match. Decatur beat Argyle in four games to claim their second state title. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I don’t know,” Lowery said trying to explain the team’s rally. “We had to dig deep for that one. It was super intense.”

Decatur rode the momentum from the rally to a fourth-set victory and their second straight state crown. Decatur defeated Argyle 25-14, 27-29, 26-24, 25-19 at the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team and these seniors,” said coach Claire Benedict-Gay.

Decatur finished the season at 40-10 and ended the year with 20 straight victories.

But the one victory that mattered to Decatur’s seven seniors was Saturday’s and capturing the state title for a second straight year.

“It’s one of the sweetest feelings you could have to finish our run as Eagles, win and get the gold medals,” said Decatur senior setter Stormi Leonard, who dished out 59 assists in her final match.

A meeting with Argyle for the third straight postseason provided the expected drama from a budding rivalry. Decatur stormed through the first set behind the hitting of Makayla Mayfield, she put down seven of her match-best 21 kills in the opening game.

Mayfield earned the 4A title match MVP, making 16 digs to go along with her kills.

“This is really awesome. I really enjoyed finishing out that way and winning state again,” Mayfield said.

Argyle fought back, taking a 23-21 lead on a Katy Keenan block in the second set. Keenan made two of her six blocks in the set. She also had a team-high 15 kills.

Decatur rallied to take a lead on a Martin kill. Decatur then three times got to set point with Argyle staving it off. Argyle evened the match on a Decatur error with a 29-27 win.

With its tough play at the net, Argyle jumped in front in the third set and took a 20-17 advantage on Alexa Bass’ ace.

Benedict-Gay then called one of her few timeouts of the season.

“I don’t call timeouts often unless I see them frazzled,” the Decatur coach explained. “A lot of times I let them get themselves out of a bind. It was definitely time to talk to them. They just needed to calm down. I needed to remind them they are in this together.

“This is a family. We win as family or lose as a family.”

Decatur couldn’t immediately get itself back in the set. Eighmy Dobbins’ kill put Argyle up 23-18. Argyle got to set point, 24-21, on Keenan’s kill.

But Decatur refused to just move ahead to the fourth set.

“As a team, we focus on the points at hand,” Leonard said. “Every point mattered because all the sets were so close. Every set we were just focused on that set. They gave us all they had.”

Decatur took the next five points starting with one of Martin’s 17 kills. Maclaine Lowery then brought Decatur within a point forcing a service-receive error with a hard serve. A pair of Argyle hitting errors put Decatur ahead for Lowery to earn the win and all the momentum.

“It was a battle. We let that third set get away,” said Argyle coach Clark Oberle. “If we could’ve gotten two more points, it may have been a different story.”

Lowery’s tip to end the third set was one of several tips for Decatur after they adjusted to Argyle’s blocking. Argyle had seven blocks but none in the final set.

“Stormi did a good job late when they started stacking on our hitters with their block of mixing the ball around and getting us shots they weren’t ready for,” Martin said.

Lowery’s tip put Decatur up 8-5 in set four. The lead grew to 15-6 on a Martin kill.

After back-to-back kills for Lowery made it 22-14, Argyle closed within four, 23-19. But Lowery ended the run with a kill. Courtnie Roberts then tipped home the match and state championship winning point.

“It’s indescribable,” Lowery said. “And to be able to do it with my best friends is amazing.”

DECATUR DEF. ARGYLE

Argyle … 14 … 29 … 24 … 19
Decatur … 25 … 27 … 26 … 25

ARGYLE

Kills: Katy Keenan 15, Halee Van Poppel 11, Alexa Bass 7, Eighmy Dobbins 5, Allison White 5

Assists: Bass 19, Strealy Sizelove 18, Maddie DeGuire 2, Dobbins 2, Keenan 1, Emma Malone 1

Digs: Keenan 12, Van Poppel 12, Bass 11, DeGuire 11, Dobbins 7, Sizelove 6, Malone 2

Aces: DeGuire 4, Dobbins 2, Bass 1

ATTACK BY SET

Set … Kills … Errors … Pct.

1 … 8 … 5 … .065
2 … 12 … 5 … .159
3 … 14 … 5 … .178
4 … 9 … 3 … .250

Total … 43 … 20 … .160

DECATUR

Kills: Makayla Mayfield 21, Caroline Lowery 19, Cooper Martin 17, Courtnie Roberts 6, Stormi Leonard 2, Raena Slate 1, Taylor Uselton 1

Assists: Leonard 59, Martin 2, Kelsie Worley 2, Maclaine Lowery 2, Mayfield 1

Digs: Maclaine Lowery 18, Mayfield 16, Martin 15, Caroline Lowery 12, Roberts 1, Uselton 1

Aces: Mayfield 2, Caroline Lowery 2, Roberts 1, Maclaine Lowery 1

ATTACK BY SET

Set … Kills … Errors … Pct.

1 … 17 … 3 … .438
2 … 22 … 6 … .320
3 … 13 … 6 … .159
4 … 15 … 5 … .333
Total … 67 … 20 … .301

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Volleyball: Long road back to top

4A REGION I BI-DISTRICT
DECATUR DEF. VENUS

Starting the postseason portion of their state title defense, the Decatur Lady Eagles looked in championship form.

Behind merciless hitting, brilliant decision-making and pinpoint serving, the Lady Eagles dispatched Venus in three sets, 25-6, 25-3, 25-7, in their Class 4A Region I Bi-district match at Chisholm Trail High School.

“We wanted to come out focused, have fun and set a tone for how we’re going to play in the playoffs,” said senior hitter Makayla Mayfield, who led the team with 12 kills.

Playing the fourth-place team from District 7-4A, Decatur (34-10) never let underdog Venus (18-20) in the match. Venus scored back-to-back points only four times.

“I feel every match we’ve got to get better,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “That’s the mentality we have to keep.”

Offensively, Decatur buried 43 kills. Setter Stormi Leonard worked the ball around with six different players registering kills. Courtnie Roberts put down 11. Caroline Lowery added eight and Cooper Martin seven.

“All of our offense got some swings,” Benedict-Gay said. “We’ve worked hard in practice moving the ball around. It’s good to see that carry over from practice.”

The Lady Eagles would have had more kills if their serving hadn’t been so sharp. Decatur finished with 12 aces. Martin led the way with four. Mayfield added three.

“Our serving was consistent,” Mayfield said. “We kept the ball in play.”

With back-to-back kills from Emily Oxford and a finisher from Martin, Decatur jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the opening set.

The Lady Eagles’ lead grew to 23-4 with a Martin block and kill. The set ended on a Venus error.

Martin’s second ace in a 10-point stretch gave Decatur a 13-1 lead to start the second game. After a pair of Venus points, Mayfield put down a kill and then went to the service line. She served out the final 11 points, ending the set with an ace.

Mayfield served the first five points in the third game with Leonard’s kill making it 5-0.

Maclaine Lowery’s two aces put Decatur up 13-6. Venus scored just one more point in the match. Roberts and Mayfield took turns burying shots in a closing 9-0 run. Leonard ended the match with a block – her fourth of the night.

Winning Feeling

WINNING FEELING -Decatur’s Stormi Leonard celebrates a point with her teammates during the Lady Eagles’ sweep of Venus. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

4A REGION I AREA
DECATUR DEF. IOWA PARK

The Decatur Lady Eagles continued their defense of last year’s state championship with a solid 25-5, 25-16, 25-8 win over Iowa Park in the Class 4A Region I area match at Jacksboro.

Decatur (32-9) led 15-4 in the first game before Iowa Park was able to put a kill on the floor. After a missed serve, Caroline Lowery went to the serving line for Decatur, and the Lady Eagles scored the next 10 points unanswered.

Lowery had an ace, Makayla Mayfield and Emily Oxford had kills, and Cooper Martin dinked one in – but several points also came on blocks as the Lady Hawks had no answer for Decatur’s lineup at the net.

In the second set, things got a little more interesting as Decatur had a few lapses in communication that allowed balls to fall in.

Decatur jumped up 7-1 early, but Iowa Park kept hanging around. It was 16-6 when a long pause in the action to discuss an Iowa Park substitution seemed to throw the Lady Eagles off their rhythm.

After Mayfield landed a kill, a Decatur block went out of bounds, then a serve went long. It was 22-10 when Decatur missed a dig, Iowa Park landed a dink and Decatur let an easy ball drop.

Iowa Park blocked a kill, then Decatur was called in the net on a kill and it was 22-15, with lots of excitement on the Iowa Park side.

But when Martin pounded a kill to the floor, Lowery went back to the serving line at 23-15.

After a kill by Iowa Park, Mayfield answered with a hard cross-court kill from the side to end the rally.

The third set started with a long rally that ended when Martin put down on another kill. It was 4-2 before successive kills by Courtnie Roberts, Mayfield and then Roberts again prompted an Iowa Park timeout.

The Decatur girls went on an 11-1 tear to finish off the match, led by Mayfield, Martin, Lowery and Roberts. Setter Stormi Leonard ended the contest with a patented dink shot that made it to the floor.

Leonard finished with 33 assists to go with her six digs, a kill, an ace and a block.

Mayfield had a strong match at the net with 20 kills. She also had nine digs and two blocks. Martin put down 10 kills to go with four digs, a block and an ace.

Maclaine Lowery made 20 digs as Decatur defended most of Iowa Park’s hits at the net. She also served two aces.

Caroline Lowery finished with six kills, six digs and four aces. Roberts put down five kills and had three blocks and three digs.

Oxford had two kills and a block, and Taylor Uselton had a dig.

4A REGION I REGION QUARTERFINAL
DECATUR DEF. STEPHENVILLE

Tested at the net by Stephenville’s hitters, the Decatur Lady Eagles simply refused to let the ball hit the floor.

The Lady Eagles made 52 digs, turning aside Stephenville shots. Decatur then finished points with near-pinpoint accuracy from multiple hitters to sweep the Class 4A Region I quarterfinal, 25-17, 25-12, 25-14, at Weatherford High School.

“We knew we’d have to play our ‘A’ game, and we tried to be as scrappy as we could,” said Decatur senior Cooper Martin, who put down 14 kills, blocked two shots, made seven digs and served four aces.

Decatur responded to a strong Stephenville attack led by Morgan Gibson, who registered a team-high 10 kills, with solid blocking at the net and determination to keep the ball in play. Emily Oxford made five of the Lady Eagles’ eight blocks.

Makayla Mayfield led a trio of Decatur players in double figures in digs with 14. Maclaine Lowery had 11 and Caroline Lowery 10.

“They were very aggressive and had some good hitters who were putting the ball in some spots we weren’t used to playing,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “We adjusted to their hitters and played good defense.”

The Stephenville defense had few answers for the Decatur offense that put down 48 kills and hit .433 for the match. Six different Lady Eagles registered kills, with Mayfield and Martin finishing with 14 apiece. Caroline Lowery added nine and Courtnie Roberts five.

“Everyone across the net stepped up,” Benedict-Gay said. “That’s our strength – having several people who can put the ball down. Stormi [Leonard] did a great job spreading the ball around.”

Leonard handed out 38 assists and called her own number three times.

In the first set after Stephenville had rallied to cut Decatur’s six-point advantage to two at 15-13, Leonard called Caroline Lowery’s number to put the end to the run. Martin then put down four of her six kills in the set to put the Lady Eagles up 21-16. Martin wore Stephenville’s defense out, hitting down the line.

“That’s my favorite shot,” Martin said.

Mayfield and Lowery tips ended the set.

Lowery landed back-to-back aces to get Decatur out to a 7-3 lead in the second set. Decatur finished with nine aces on the night and served at a 90.3 clip.

Three kills from Martin in four points put the Lady Eagles up 19-10. Mayfield then finished off the set with a kill.

Decatur fell behind in the third set 6-4 on a Codi Beyer ace. Mayfield landed back-to-back kills to even the game and send Decatur on a 13-2 run to build a 17-8 advantage.

After Roberts’ kill put the Lady Eagles at match point, Mayfield finished it off.

4A REGION I SEMIFINAL
DECATUR DEF. BIG SPRING

The Decatur Lady Eagles struggled to break out of an early slumber against Big Spring until Caroline Lowery delivered a wake-up call late in the first set.

Lowery punished back-to-back kills to put Decatur (37-10) in front 18-17. The Lady Eagles never trailed again on the way to a sweep of Big Spring in the 4A Region I semifinal at The Coliseum in Snyder.

“We weren’t expecting them to come out with as much fire. We knew they wanted to beat us after last year,” said Lowery, who finished with 12 kills, two aces and 1.5 blocks. “Once we got calm, everything came together.”

Decatur won 25-19, 25-13, 25-14, making a region final for a third straight year.

Decatur defeated Big Spring last year in the 3A semifinal in three sets. Big Spring looked determined early for a different outcome behind the hitting of junior middle blocker Erin Pollard, who put down three early kills. She finished with eight.

Decatur also helped Big Spring early with three service errors and four hitting errors.

With her team down 14-12, Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay called a timeout.

“This team feels pressure, like they have a statement to make,” said Benedict-Gay. “It took them a second to calm down and realize that they can control their side of the net.”

Even after the timeout, Decatur trailed until Lowery buried a kill with a big swing. Decatur setter Stormi Leonard immediately went back to Lowery for another kill to put the Lady Eagles in front.

“She definitely stepped up and made some great shots,” Benedict-Gay said. “She’s just a fighter. It’s been a few matches since I’ve seen that level from her. It’s good to see.”

Decatur ran off nine of the final 11 points in the set. Makayla Mayfield’s kill put the Lady Eagles at game point. Lowery’s ace finished off the set.

Lowery started the second set with a kill and then extended the Lady Eagles’ lead to 4-1 with a blast to the center of the floor.

“Our mentality was to crush them,” Lowery said. “We wanted to keep pushing them down and didn’t want them to come back.”

Two Courtnie Roberts blocks and one from Lowery stretched Decatur’s advantage to 15-8.

A Leonard ace made it game point. Mayfield then finished off the set with one of her nine kills.

Sensing a chance for the sweep, Decatur jumped to a 10-3 lead in the third set on a Roberts ace.

Decatur finished with eight aces and served at 87.8 percent.

The Decatur advantage grew to 10, 24-14, on a Cooper Martin kill. Martin put down 12 of the Lady Eagles’ 39 kills. Decatur hit .330 for the match.

Stormi Leonard dished out 31 assists.

Her final assist on the left side allowed Lowery to appropriately end the match with a kill off the Big Spring block.

Victory

VICTORY – Cooper Martin pumps her fist as her teammates cheer in the background. Martin downed a dozen of the Lady Eagles’ 39 kills against Big Spring. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

4A REGION I FINAL
DECATUR DEF. BUSHLAND

In the clash of defending state champions, the Decatur Lady Eagles absorbed the first body blows from Bushland and middle blocker Anna Graham.

But the Lady Eagles (39-10) quickly got off the canvas after dropping the first set, making adjustments and beginning to land their own punches. Behind the clutch hitting of Caroline Lowery and Makayla Mayfield, they took the final three sets and the Class 4A Region I Final at Western Texas College’s The Coliseum in Snyder.

Decatur won 19-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17.

“They came out with fire, and we were a little nervous because we knew it was only one game to state,” said Lowery, who was named the 4A Region I tournament MVP after putting down 16 kills in the final. “We worried too much about what they were doing [in the first set] instead of what we needed to do. After that, we started to play our game.”

Bushland (37-5), last year’s 2A champions, had the Lady Eagles on the ropes early behind Graham, who buried 17 kills from the middle of the floor.

“Their middle blocker was phenomenal. That’s something we’ve not seen,” Leonard said. “That’s not the game we play, and it’s something we’re not used to.”

Decatur also struggled to handle Bushland’s serving and to get a good pass to get into its offense.

Bushland took the lead 13-12 on the first of two Decatur service errors in the opening set. That started a 6-0 run for the Lady Falcons.

Bushland captured the set on another Decatur service error.

After dropping their first set in a while, Decatur rebounded quickly.

“From our tough preseason, we played some really tough teams that pushed us, and we knew what it was like to be in the situation – to be down and have to come back,” Lowery said.

Mayfield put Decatur up 6-3 with a big swing in the second set. The Lady Eagles then got their two middles, Courtnie Roberts and Emily Oxford, involved in the offense, putting down kills around another from Mayfield to put Decatur up 10-4.

Mayfield finished the second set with a kill.

Decatur jumped out to a 5-0 lead in set three and took a 16-7 advantage on a Mayfield kill that bounced off a Bushland defender and nearly made it into the stands.

Mayfield finished the set with one of her 18 kills.

With a state berth in sight, Decatur took a 12-6 lead in set four on a Roberts block. A Roberts kill made it 19-10.

Lowery increased the lead to 23-16. Two Bushland hitting errors closed the match – and sent the Lady Eagles back to state.

4A STATE SEMIFINAL
DECATUR DEF. ROBINSON

In their return to the state stage, the Decatur Lady Eagles looked right at home Friday afternoon.

Behind pinpoint serving and a versatile attack, the Lady Eagles dispatched Robinson in the 4A semifinals of the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

Decatur won 25-18 25-19 25-7. The Lady Eagles moved to 3-0 and have won nine straight games at the state tournament in the past two years.

The bright state lights had little effect on the Lady Eagles.

In the third set, the Lady Eagles put Robinson away with five of their nine aces. Lowery and Makayla Mayfield served two each. Cooper Martin buried four kills.

“We had a game plan coming in. We wanted to make sure we attacked at the pins and wanted to keep them out of system with our serving,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay.

Decatur had just one service error in the match.

Lowery and Courtnie Roberts served three aces each.

Decatur jumped out to a 15-5 lead on Stormi Leonard’s lone kill. A Lowery ace made it 20-4. After a pair of Robinson points at match point, Mayfield ended the match with her 15th kill.

Decatur put down 42 kills, hitting .323 for the match. The Lady Eagles hit .500, putting down 13 of their 24 chances in the final set.

Martin finished with 12 kills and Lowery nine. Leonard doled out 37 assists.

Defensively, the Lady Eagles made 53 digs and limited Robinson’s Bailey Meggs to seven kills on 34 attacks. Maclaine Lowery made 17 digs and Leonard 15.

Decatur used a 9-2 run early in the first set to take an 11-5 lead on a Caroline Lowery ace. The Lady Eagles maintained the edge, taking the game by seven.

The Lady Eagles again jumped out to an early advantage in the second set, 5-1, on a Mayfield ace and Robinson error. Robinson never got closer than four the rest of the game.

Down 2-0, Robinson had no answer in game three.

SEASON RESULTS

Season Record: 40-10
8-4A record: 8-0
Playoffs record: 7-0

Azle … 25-15, 25-19, 25-10
Joshua … 25-14, 25-12, 25-17
Round Rock McNeil … 25-20, 25-22
Houston Bellaire … 23-25, 25-18, 25-16
League City Clear Falls … 22-25, 15-25
Leander Rouse … 25-23, 25-19
Lewisville Marcus … 25-16, 25-18
Austin Westlake … 25-13, 25-23
Pearland … 19-25, 18-25
San Antonio Alamo Heights … 25-23, 19-25, 9-15
Aledo … 20-25, 25-20, 20-25, 25-18, 6-15
Hereford … 25-18, 20-25, 25-13
North Richland Hills Birdville … 25-18, 25-16
Arlington Lamar … 25-20, 25-20
Saginaw Boswell … 25-15, 25-19
Prosper … 21-25, 25-20, 23-25
Frisco Wakeland … 25-18, 25-23
Waco Midway … 23-25, 25-21, 25-17
Rockwall Heath … 19-25, 12-25
Brock … 25-15, 25-21, 25-18
Allen … 23-25, 25-23, 25-15
Prosper … 26-24, 20-25, 15-25
Garland Sachse … 25-14, 25-19
Grapevine … 25-14, 25-16
Austin Westlake … 22-25, 25-17, 25-27
Prosper … 25-20, 20-25, 13-25
Keller Fossil Ridge … 25-18, 25-22, 25-18
Fort Worth Chisholm Trail … 25-8, 25-12, 23-25, 25-8
Denton Ryan … 25-18, 25-12, 25-16
Coppell … 12-25, 21-25, 22-25
Abilene Wylie … 25-15, 25-13, 25-20
Argyle … 25-20, 21-25, 25-18, 26-24
Lake Worth … 25-6, 25-10, 25-10
Mansfield Legacy … 25-11, 25-10, 25-16
Castleberry … 25-5, 25-0, 25-4
Bridgeport … 25-5, 25-9, 25-4
Springtown … 25-9, 25-16, 25-13
Lake Worth … 25-6, 25-12, 25-5
Grapevine … 25-20, 25-11, 25-18
Castleberry … 25-6, 25-7, 25-9
Bridgeport … 25-9, 25-5, 25-4
Springtown … 25-13, 25-7, 25-11
Aledo … 25-22, 25-18, 25-15

PLAYOFFS

Venus … 25-6, 25-3, 25-7
Iowa Park … 25-5, 25-16, 25-8
Stephenville … 25-17, 25-12, 25-14

REGION I TOURNAMENT

Big Spring … 25-19, 25-13, 25-14
Bushland … 19-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17

STATE TOURNAMENT

Robinson … 25-18, 25-19, 25-7
Argyle … 25-14, 27-29, 26-24, 25-19

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Volleyball: Mayfield shines in title match

On her way to earning Wise County Female Athlete of the Year last year, Makayla Mayfield was best characterized by coaches and teammates as unflappable.

She showed that again Saturday in the 4A state title match against Argyle.

Mayfield buried a match-best 21 kills on 52 attacks, hitting .250. She also made 16 digs on defense and served a pair of aces as Decatur captured its second straight state championship.

Mayfield earned the MVP of the finals with her performance.

Top Honor

TOP HONOR – Makayla Mayfield accepts the 4A title match MVP award. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It was awesome,” Mayfield said. “I really enjoyed finishing that way.”

Performing on the big stage was nothing new for Mayfield, a four-year standout on the volleyball court.

As a sophomore, she helped Decatur to the region final. She earned 9-3A Defensive Player of the Year after a team-leading 349 digs and serving 60 aces. She also added 351 kills, including 17 in the region final against Argyle.

In her junior season, Mayfield recorded a team-high 508 kills and made 540 digs. She also had 79 aces and 34 blocks.

“Makayla was the rock for the team. She was always the go-to person,” said Decatur setter Stormi Leonard over the summer. “You could never tell she had the whole team, all the pressure, on her.”

After leading the Lady Eagles back against Argyle last postseason, she continued her strong play through the state title match.

She was named Class 3A volleyball Player of the Year by the Texas Sportswriters Association, 9-3A MVP and Wise County MVP in volleyball.

But those weren’t the only highlights of her junior year. Mayfield quickly joined the Lady Eagles basketball team, averaging 3.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

Just as she did in volleyball, Mayfield came up huge in big moments. In the 9-3A tiebreaker against Krum, Mayfield helped lead a second-half surge with her on-the-ball defense. Her steal and layup in the fourth quarter started a game-winning run.

In the 3A Region II area game against Princeton, Mayfield was forced to play heavy minutes due to an injury to guard Murphy Graham and foul trouble. In the closing seconds, her team was down 47-45. Backup point guard Sidney Carter fought through the press and got the ball to Mayfield on the wing.

Mayfield, who had not hit a 3-pointer all season before hitting one in the first half, drained the shot from the wing at the buzzer to give Decatur the 48-47 victory.

“I’m not the person to give it to at the end of the game,” Mayfield recalled. “It happened really fast. I just threw it up there. When it went in, I was in shock.”

Back on the volleyball court this fall, she was determined to help the Lady Eagles get back to the state tournament. She put down 496 kills, hitting .312 for the season. She also made a team-high 543 digs and served 65 aces.

Saturday, after her final performance as a Lady Eagle, she was once again a champion.

“This year we really wanted it because we knew it would be tough to do it again,” said Mayfield. “We wanted to accept that challenge and go out and win another state championship.”

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Volleyball: Leading way back to top – Leonard racks up 59 assists in finals

While hanging out with a pair of Decatur quarterbacks, Grayson Muehlstein and Justin Myers, Stormi Leonard got a few lessons on taking a snap and dropping back to pass.

“I’ve always wanted to play football,” Leonard said. “But I never could.”

Big Helping Hand

BIG HELPING HAND – Decatur senior setter Stormi Leonard hands out one of her 59 assists in the 4A title match win over Argyle Saturday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Though not on the gridiron, Leonard was undoubtedly the quarterback for the Decatur Lady Eagles volleyball team the past three seasons.

Leonard, a four-year varsity player, is the school record holder for assists with 3,955 over her career.

She handed out 1,356 on the way to the 3A crown in 2013. This year on the way to repeating as state champions, she doled out 1,433.

But the all-state setter meant far more to the Lady Eagles than those numbers show.

“She’s the whole package,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “She brings a lot of life to the floor. She’s always dancing and smiling. She’s very entertaining.”

Leonard also bears the brunt of her coach’s displeasure when something goes wrong.

“She takes the most heat from me. I’m harder on her than anyone,” the coach explains.

The job description isn’t ideal: part cheerleader, quarterback, psychologist and fall-guy.

“Some days are harder than others, but I wouldn’t want another job,” Leonard said. “You have to have lots of patience and the ability to work with everyone – the different hitters and passers. You also have to deal with the coach and refs.

“If a hit isn’t right or a pass wasn’t good, it’s up to me to fix the mistake.”

Leonard started playing setter in junior high after she realized her height (5-7) would limit her as a hitter.

“I’m short,” Leonard said with a dead-pan delivery. “I used to hit, and then in seventh grade, I accepted the fact that I’m not going to be a hitter.”

She started working with former Decatur standout Fleming Smurthwaite, and by her freshman year, she was a part-time setter on the Lady Eagles’ varsity with Joey Redwine.

The job was hers full-time the past three years.

In her final match Saturday, the quarterback turned in a Super Bowl caliber performance, handing out 59 assists – 20 more than her entire freshman year.

And it was her audibles in the offense to get around a tough Argyle block that allowed Decatur to rally in the third set and win the title in the fourth.

“Stormi did a good job late, when they started stacking on our hitters with their block, of mixing the ball around and getting us shots they weren’t ready for,” said senior Cooper Martin.

But as most quarterbacks give credit to their offensive line, Leonard quickly deflected any credit to her hitters.

“The hitters did a great job of taking care of the ball and good job adjusting to the good and bad that I gave them,” Leonard said. “They were doing everything they could to keep the ball in play.”

Few quarterbacks get a chance to leave as a state champion. Leonard has now experienced that twice.

“To finish out our run as an Eagle and get a gold medal is insane,” Leonard said.

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Volleyball: Family ties help secure crown

Sister Act

SISTER ACT – Maclaine and Caroline Lowery celebrate after the Lady Eagles vcitory Saturday over Argyle in four sets. The Lowerys are one of several sisters in the program. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Maclaine Lowery’s light hearted nature and jokes don’t always sit well with her older sister, Caroline.

“I get annoyed with her,” the older Lowery said. “She’ll also argue with me. I’m a senior and that’s disrespectful. We definitely have our ups and downs.”

But the opportunity to share the experience on the volleyball court the past two years – including winning two state titles – makes up for any of the down times.

“I do get annoyed with her, but I’m thankful for the experience,” Caroline explains. “There’s not many sisters who can say they’ve won a state title together.”

This past year, the Lowerys were far from unique in a Decatur volleyball program that features more than a couple of family relationships – with four sets of sisters and a mother-daughter combination.

We Are Family

WE ARE FAMILY – The Decatur Lady Eagles have a mother and daughter, Brandy and Makayla Mayfield (front) and four sets of sisters – Caroline and Maclaine Lowery, Kelsie, Courtnie and Brittany Roberts, Cooper and Carson Martin, and Morgan and Haleigh Taylor – in the program this year. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“Because we have so many family bonds it makes us closer,” said senior Cooper Martin, whose freshman sister Carson joined the program this year. “We treat the others like sisters also.”

Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay said those family relations can keep it interesting but have also helped with the program’s winning culture.

“We’ve always stressed that we are a family and rely on each other, not only in volleyball but life,” Benedict-Gay said. “They’ve learned how to hold each other accountable and be there for each other in the tough times.”

Assistant coach Brandy Mayfield and her daughter, senior Makayla, have perhaps the most unique relationship. But early on, the two set parameters to keep volleyball from tearing them apart.

“We learned to leave it at school,” Coach Mayfield said.

But despite their best efforts, sometimes it becomes dinner conversation.

On the court, Makayla likes having her mother there to talk to.

“During a timeout, I can talk to her and she helps me to focus and do better,” she said.

Coach Mayfield enjoys the chance to help her daughter and the opportunity to share in the team’s success.

“I get to experience it on both ends as a coach and mother,” she said.

Sophomore middle blocker Courtnie Roberts has a pair of sisters in the program, her twin sister Kelsie, who plays on the junior varsity, and senior manager Brittany.

“We haven’t all three been on the same team together since we were 8 and 9,” Courtnie said. “It’s weird for all of us to be in the same program.”

Brittany took over as a manager this year to spend time with her younger sisters.

“I wanted to be with them as a senior,” she said.

Brittany and Kelsie are also stalwarts in the Decatur softball program. They are hoping to get Courtnie to join them the diamond this year.

While Courtnie and Kelsie are twins, they are quite different.

“They have very different personalities,” Brittany interjects.

On Feb. 22, 1999, Courtnie was born two minutes before Kelsie.

“I’ll forever hold that over her head,” Courtnie joked.

They were also 2 ounces and 2 inches apart.

Now, Courtnie towers over both her sisters.

“She’s forever my little big sister,” Brittany said.

Courtnie also happens to be the one the other two sisters turn to.

“We both get along with Courtnie better,” Kelsie said.

Brittany adds: “Her personality is unique.”

Brittany Roberts shares managing duties with Morgan Taylor, who is also helping freshman sister Haleigh find her way as a first-year player in the program.

“It’s been great. It’s something we can share together,” Taylor said. “Before, we were always in different places. This has helped strengthen our relationship.”

Morgan played her freshman and sophomore seasons before stepping into her support role.

“I’m in charge of everything,” she points out as she tells Brittany Roberts what to wear for a photo.

Haleigh adds: “She’s sometimes bossy, but most of the time she’s helpful.”

Another senior, Cooper Martin, has welcomed her freshman sister, Carson, who is playing on the junior varsity.

“It’s fun getting to take her to practice and having a person to talk to,” Cooper said.

Carson claims having her older sister with her helped her settle in quickly.

“On the first day, I was more comfortable with her,” Carson said. “She’s also my partner in the weight room. She’s been able to show me what to do during workouts.”

But as the younger sister of a four-year varsity standout, Carson said there are high expectations.

“I wanted to be in her shoes but also, they are hard shoes to fill,” Carson admitted.

Because of her light hearted nature, Maclaine Lowery is used to jokes at her expense from her older sister and others.

“I’m more of the punching bag, but it’s good. I’m used to it,” she said.

Caroline adds: “We make fun of her a lot because she falls down a lot.”

One thing Caroline does not laugh about is being late for workouts in the morning while waiting on Maclaine.

Trailing in the third set of the state final against Argyle, Benedict-Gay rallied the Lady Eagles during a timeout, reminding them that they truly were a family.

“With such talent on this team, it’s easy to become individuals,” the Decatur coach said. “I had to remind them that this is a team sport. They had to do this together.

“We’ve talked about this for four years. This is a family. We win as a family or lose as a family. You can’t do it individually.”

It’ll forever be a family of champions.

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Volleyball: In their own words – Decatur players share their thoughts on winning second state title

Picture Perfect

PICTURE PERFECT – Decatur players take selfies during a photo shoot at the Wise County Messenger earlier this season. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I have been coming to the state tournament with my dad every year since 2008, but this year it was different. It was all I’ve ever hoped and dreamed of. As a little girl, I looked up to all of the girls playing on that court and to finally be one of them was one of the best things that has ever happened to me (and my dad) – and to have become a state champion is overwhelming. Words can’t begin to describe how grateful I am to have gotten this opportunity with such a great group of people. The memories I have made the past couple weeks of being on this team will be forever, and I couldn’t ask for a greater weekend – even if my name was changed to Abbie HeLens on the state shirt.”
Abbie Heiens,
Sophomore

“To sum the game or season up in 100 words is difficult. Not very many people understand the amount of time and energy it requires to be that successful, twice. And even fewer have felt that much overwhelming happiness to achieve a goal you’ve had for years. Looking up in the stands and seeing that many people supporting us was incredible. The stands were full of blue, hardly a seat left to sit in. That game was the best way I could have finished my career as a Lady Eagle, and I still can’t believe it’s over.”
Stormi Leonard,
Senior

“This was a great way to end my high school career – the relationships I have with these girls mean the world to me. I wouldn’t want this any other way or with any other teammates. It’s been such a great honor to make history by earning back-to-back titles for Decatur – I was in awe when I looked up and saw the entire home side filled with blue. We have the best fans ever!”
Makayla Mayfield
Senior

“Coming to state was a huge deal for me. I knew my role getting moved up was to gain experience and get ready for next year. It was so much sweeter coming home with new knowledge for the game and a gold medal to remember how hard we worked. The most special thing for me was winning a state game with my twin, Courtnie. She is amazing, and I look up to her. It felt good to be a part of something so big and happy with her. I know I have big shoes to fill.”
Kelsie Roberts,
Sophomore

“Being a part of a team that made it to the state championship game was such a wonderful opportunity. The whole thing seemed unreal at first, and throughout the game, all I could think about was how lucky I was to be a part of it all. I love my team so much and I am going to miss them a lot. I am so happy to have experienced this with them.”
Raena Slate,
Sophomore

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Volleyball: By the numbers – 2014 Final Stats

HITTING

Player … Kills Hitting Pct.

Caroline Lowery … 499 … .316
Makayla Mayfield … 496 … .312
Cooper Martin … 448 … .315
Courtnie Roberts … 140 … .236
Emily Oxford … 105 … .225
Dylana Hutchins … 102 … .285
Stormi Leonard … 91 … .407
Kelsie Worley … 29 … .122
Raena Slate … 7 … .583
Maclaine Lowery … 3 … .111

Totals … 1,920 … .301

Golden Finish

GOLDEN FINISH – Decatur Superintendent Rod Townsend gives Cooper Martin her gold medal. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

ASSISTS

Player … Assists

Stormi Leonard … 1,433
Courtnie Roberts … 84
Maclaine Lowery … 61
Caroline Lowery … 19
Cooper Martin … 14
Ariana Buchanan … 13
Presley Gibson … 13
Makayla Mayfield … 11
Taylor Uselton … 8
Emily Oxford … 6
Dylana Hutchins … 4

Totals … 1,666

Emotional Win 2

EMOTIONAL WIN – Ariana Buchanan hugs teammate Emily Oxford after the Lady Eagles’ win Saturday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

SERVING

Player … Aces … Pct.

Caroline Lowery … 93 … 89.2
Makayla Mayfield … 65 … 93.4
Courtnie Roberts … 54 … 88.8
Stormi Leonard … 53 … 95.5
Maclaine Lowery … 48 … 92.6
Cooper Martin … 39 … 95.2
Dylana Hutchins … 19 … 90
Marta Bottoni … 10 … 96
Ariana Buchanan … 9 … 96.6
Kelsie Worley … 4 … 91.7
Emily Oxford … 1 … 90.9
Taylor Uselton … 0 … 87.1

Totals … 398 … 92.5

Leading the Way

LEADING THE WAY – Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay makes a call from the bench. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

DIGS

Player … Digs

Makayla Mayfield … 543
Maclaine Lowery … 482
Stormi Leonard … 455
Caroline Lowery … 452
Cooper Martin … 316
Courtnie Roberts … 178
Ariana Buchanan … 131
Dylana Hutchins … 72
Taylor Uselton … 67
Emily Oxford … 42
Kelsie Worley … 21
Presley Gibson … 15
Marta Bottani … 6
Raena Slate … 2

Totals … 2,782

BLOCKS

Player … Blocks

Emily Oxford … 104
Cooper Martin … 65
Courtnie Roberts … 51
Dylana Hutchins … 44
Makayla Mayfield … 34
Stormi Leonard … 34
Caroline Lowery … 31
Kelsie Worley … 6
Raena Slate … 1

Totals … 370

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Volleyball: 3 Lady Eagles earn all-state tourney spots

Three members of the 4A state-champion Decatur Lady Eagles earned spots on the all-state tournament team announced Sunday morning.

Seniors Makayla Mayfield, Cooper Martin and Stormi Leonard represented Decatur on the six-player squad.

They were joined by Argyle’s Katy Keenan and Alexa Bass and Liberty Hill’s Jaycie Pluenneke.

Mayfield was named the finals MVP after putting down 21 kills and making 16 digs. She had 15 kills in the state semifinal against Robinson Friday.

Martin buried 12 kills in the semifinal and had 17 in the state championship. Martin also made 15 digs in the finals.

Leonard dished out 59 assists in the title match along with making 10 digs. The setter had 37 assists in the semifinals.

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True blue: Decatur faithful cheer volleyball team on its way to state competition

True blue: Decatur faithful cheer volleyball team on its way to state competition

Carrying signs for her daughters, Maclaine and Caroline, Amy Lowery walked into the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland Friday afternoon after a hurried couple of days.

“I went yesterday to Tyler to pick up my mother. We call it the Grand Jan Dash,” Mrs. Lowery explains. “She’ll be here. She’s nearly 84 and didn’t want to miss this.”

Along with dealing with those logistics, Mrs. Lowery hides her nerves on this day.

Go Eagles

GO EAGLES – Fans of the Decatur High School volleyball team chant Friday in support of their defending state champions. The Lady Eagles made it to the state title match again by defeating Robinson. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“The parents, we’re a nervous wreck,” she said. “It’s incredibly exciting. We’ve been hoping all year to make it back here. For them as sisters, it’s amazing to get here again and have both them playing.”

The Lowerys were among hundreds of Decatur fans that made the journey east to Garland Friday to watch the Lady Eagles battle Robinson in the 4A semifinal at the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships.

Among the faithful in blue and white was a good share of the high school population, who ditched classes to attend. They were given an excused absence with a ticket stub, though.

“We came to support our team,” said Decatur senior Jasmyne Tate.

Hannah Dunning added: “I hope they can do it again.”

Devoted Fans

DEVOTED FANS – A Decatur fan can’t mask his support for the Lady Eagles, especially Ariana Buchanan. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Tate, Dunning and Macee Reed had little remorse about missing class to watch the Lady Eagles.

“Not even a little bummed,” Reed said.

It wasn’t just high school students that made the trip to Garland. Eighth-graders Ashlee Hudson and Ashleigh Rogers were among the early-arriving fans.

“It’s really cool,” Hudson said. “One day I might play volleyball, and it’d be really cool if we went to state.”

One More Time

ONE MORE TIME – Lady Eagle fans will cheer the team on one final time this season when Decatur fights for the state title at 2 p.m. today in Garland. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

It wasn’t just students who played hookie for the Lady Eagles. Leisha Young left her staff in charge of Cakes by Leisha to watch her nieces – the Lowerys – play Friday.

“There will always be cupcakes, but there can’t always be a state championship,” Young said.

Sheryl DuBois came to watch five members of the team that attend her church.

“I left two kids with the flu,” DuBois said. “My husband is at home with them. I told him ‘I’m going to go.'”

The Lady Eagles left Thursday for the match with a huge sendoff at the high school. Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend offered praise to the girls, who have captured the imagination of the community the past two years with back-to-back state trips.

“People don’t realize what winning at this level does for the confidence of the whole district,” Townsend said. “It changes the environment and the face of everything.

“I love these kids and watching them compete, especially with the attitude they have. This group is an amazing set of young ladies.”

Decatur fans will get to see their Lady Eagles play one more time. The Lady Eagles swept Robinson in three games, 25-18, 25-19, 25-7, to earn a spot in the state title game for the second straight year. They will play Argyle at 2 p.m.

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Volleyball: Back to ‘Ship – Lady Eagles sweep Robinson to reach 2nd state final

In the return to the state stage, the Decatur Lady Eagles looked right at home Friday afternoon.

Rushing the Court

RUSHING THE COURT – Decatur’s Lady Eagles celebrate their win over Robinson in three sets to take the 4A semifinals Friday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. Decatur faces Argyle for the state title 2 p.m. today. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Behind pinpoint serving and a versatile attack, the Lady Eagles dispatched Robinson in the 4A semifinals of the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

Decatur won 25-18 25-19 25-7. The Lady Eagles moved to 3-0 and have won nine straight games at the state tournament in the past two years.

Decatur will now play in the 4A final at 2 p.m. Saturday against Argyle.

“We’re going to do our best to get a state title and leave it all on the court,” said senior outside hitter Makayla Mayfield.

The bright state lights had little effect on the Lady Eagles.

Above the Rest

ABOVE THE REST – Courtnie Roberts and Makayla Mayfield go up for a block against Robinson Friday afternoon. The Lady Eagles won in three games, 25-18, 25-19 and 25-7. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“We were too relaxed and not as ready as we should have been,” said Decatur senior outside hitter Caroline Lowery. “We picked it up in the third game where we needed to be.”

In the third set, the Lady Eagles put Robinson away with five of their nine aces. Lowery and Makayla Mayfield served two each. Cooper Martin buried four kills.

“We had a game plan coming in. We wanted to make sure we attacked at the pins and wanted to keep them out of system with our serving,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay.

Decatur had just one service error in the match.

“The experience from last year helped us slice up the court,” Lowery said.

Lowery and Courtnie Roberts served three aces each.

Court is in Session

COURT IS IN SESSION – The Lady Eagles served a swift defeat to Robinson Friday. Decatur had 42 kills and 53 digs to dominate play. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur jumped out to a 15-5 lead on Stormi Leonard’s lone kill. A Lowery ace made it 20-4. After a pair of Robinson points at match point, Mayfield ended the match with her 15th kill.

Decatur put down 42 kills, hitting .323 for the match. The Lady Eagles hit .500, putting down 13 of their 24 chances in the final set.

Martin finished with 12 kills and Lowery nine. Leonard doled out 37 assists.

Defensively, the Lady Eagles made 53 digs and limited Robinson’s Bailey Meggs to seven kills on 34 attacks. Maclaine Lowery made 17 digs and Leonard 15.

Decatur used a 9-2 run early in the first set to take an 11-5 lead on a Caroline Lowery ace. The Lady Eagles maintained the edge, taking the game by seven.

The Lady Eagles again jumped out to an early advantage in the second set, 5-1, on a Mayfield ace and Robinson error. Robinson never got closer than four the rest of the game.

Down 2-0, Robinson had no answer in game three.

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Volleyball: Clear vision – Lady Eagles driven for 2nd title

With a big lead in the third set Friday afternoon, the Decatur Lady Eagles refused to let their minds drift from the task at hand.

The team just kept their tunnel vision and closed out Robinson, just like the rest of their playoff opponents, in three games. In two playoff runs, the Lady Eagles have dropped just three sets. In three matches at the state tournament, they are now a perfect 9-0.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

“They are as disciplined as they are athletic,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “They hate to lose far more than they like to win and don’t settle. That’s a huge driving.”

That drive and discipline is the reason the Lady Eagles will play for a second straight state title Saturday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

Like so many times during the match, the Decatur coach never called a timeout during the brief Robinson runs, letting her seniors right the ship.

“They know what to do. The seniors are the ones that lead the group,” Benedict-Gay said.

They also know what they want. Since last year when they received their rings for the 2013 title, this group has not been satisfied with past accomplishments. All they’ve talked about is winning a second state title. Even during a brutal stretch in August and September, playing the top teams in 6A and 5A and picking up all 10 of their losses, the focus stayed on November and Garland.

Little changed walking on the floor Friday. It showed, winning the first two sets by seven and six points before burying Robinson in the third set by 18.

“We know where we want to be,” said senior Cooper Martin.

Fellow senior Makayla Mayfield added: “We’re going to do our best to get a state title and leave it all on the court.”

While pointed out in the press conference that it will be the last match Saturday for seven Decatur seniors, including four-year varsity standouts Martin, Mayfield, Stormi Leonard and Caroline Lowery, they are not ready for any talk about their legacy or the end.

“That’s what we thought about today, but we moved past that,” Benedict-Gay said. “They want to go out on top.”

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Volleyball: Berryhill earns 5-6A spot

Camryn Berryhill put down a team-high 181 kills during district play and hit .216 for the season for the Northwest Lady Texans.

Her efforts landed the outside hitter on the 5-6A first team.

She was one of two Lady Texans to receive all-league honors. Morgan Baker, Tatum Talley and Christine Ruybalid received honorable mention.

Along with her hitting, Berryhill led the Lady Texans with 16 aces during district and made 200 digs.

Middle blocker Tessa Harfield earned a second-team selection with 130 kills and 30 blocks.

The setter Baker finished with 285 assists along with 13 aces and 140 digs. Talley made 219 digs. Ruybalid had 194 digs.

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Saturday Sports Buffet: Laying the groundwork – First Lady Eagles begin winning tradition

In her junior year, Courtney Wren Daugherty took up a new sport just arriving at the high school level in Decatur – volleyball.

“Decatur was just a basketball town at that point. Very few of us had ever played [volleyball],” she recalled. “I cheered, played basketball, softball and ran track. I wanted to give it a try.”

New to the Scene

NEW TO THE SCENE – The first Decatur varsity volleyball team in 2002 included (clockwise, from front left) Christi Chacon, Carla Summers, Haley Lain, Keri Dennard, Courtney Wren, Haley Greer, Christan Harrison, Ashley Ferguson and Allyson Elledge. Archive photo

After just one season of junior-varsity play a year later, Daugherty and fellow senior Allyson Elledge Allen helped start the first varsity volleyball team.

“My freshman year they started with the seventh grade and when those seventh graders became freshmen they opened it up for everyone to have a chance to play volleyball,” Daugherty explained. “We played on JV my freshman year and in ’02 my senior year we had the first varsity.”

The first year of high-school volleyball was led by Robin Conger, who laid the groundwork for the program.

But before the first varsity season, Conger left for a job in the Houston area. When school officials went looking for her replacement, they found her in the middle school library, hiring Karen Potts. She had previously been an assistant coach at Windthorst and Graham.

“She had experience coaching volleyball,” Daugherty recalled.

The team also had the interesting dynamic of playing with few seniors and with the most experienced players being the sophomores such as Christi Chacon Infante.

“It started with my grade in middle school,” Infante said. “It was a little frustrating starting but it came together. It was a whole new sport to learn.

“Our younger kids had to step up to be leaders.”

The Lady Eagles’ first varsity season started as expected with a pair of losses in a dual match against Liberty Christian and Pilot Point – both perennial playoff teams.

But it didn’t take long for the program to pick up its first varsity win at of all places – Argyle – against the Argyle Black squad 15-8, 15-17, 15-9.

Note that it was before rally scoring when teams had to serve to score and played a best-of-three to 15, instead of today’s best-of-five to 25. There was also no libero.

“The game itself was a lot different,” Daugherty said.

It was the first of 12 wins for the first-year program that finished with a record of 12-18. Decatur also managed some level of success in district play, staying in the playoff hunt until the final two matches.

“We’d been so good at basketball and softball, it was tough coming into some we didn’t know much about,” Daugherty said. “We won three district matches and had two or three that were close and came down to a couple of points.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I fell in love with the sport and wish I could have played more.”

Just two years later, the Decatur Lady Eagles made the playoffs for the first time. And 11 years after taking the court as a varsity program for the first season, the Lady Eagles celebrated their first state title.

“It’s awesome. I’m glad I got to start the tradition,” Infante said.

As the Lady Eagles took the court Friday in the 4A semifinals trying to get to a second straight title game, Daugherty will be on the bench. She took a job this year, coaching middle school volleyball in Decatur.

“It’s cool to me 12 years later to be able to sit on the bench and watch them at state,” Daugherty said. “Never in a million years would I have guessed it.

“It’s cool to know I was there in the beginning.”

SIDEDISHES

  • In the past week, Messenger photo man Joe Duty and I have seen miles and miles of Texas. By our rough calculations, we drove 820 miles last weekend between Decatur, Snyder, Mineral Wells, Snyder and back home. A lot of time for conversation
  • Many of those miles were to watch the Decatur Lady Eagles capture the 4A Region I volleyball title and a trip back to the state tournament. Pushed in both matches at regionals, the Lady Eagles showed why they are defending champions bouncing back and using all their weapons to pick up victories. Under the radar in both matches behind their four senior stars, was the great play at the net of middle blockers Emily Oxford and Courtnie Roberts. The two made some timely blocks and kills that allowed the Lady Eagles to take control of both matches
  • About to head to Garland as I write this piece. I applaud the University Interscholastic League for moving some of the state title games around Texas and out of Austin. Actually with the basketball tournament being played in San Antonio this year, softball, track and swimming will be the only sports where all state champions will be crowned in Austin
  • It was a crazy ending to the Decatur football season with a four-overtime loss to Stephenville. It was the second straight week a Decatur opponent tied the score and forced overtime on the final play of the game. But 11 weeks before, who would have predicted Decatur, picked third in 4-4A Division I, to be in that spot against preseason No. 1 Stephenville and No. 3 Graham. It shows just how much Decatur improved over 11 weeks
  • Another preseason poll off the mark was Texas Football’s picks for 3-4A Division II. Bridgeport was picked last in the league but is now playing in the area-round
  • Bridgeport’s turnaround from 0-10 to a area-round squad may be the story of the year in 4A Division II. But their area round opponent, Sweetwater is having quite the turnaround also, improving from 4-6 last year to 11-0 this season. The Mustangs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008
  • It was an impressive start on the basketball court for the Bulls, taking 2014 state semifinalist Kennedale to the final minute before falling by three
  • Is everyone enjoying the College Football Playoff? I am. I also don’t want it to expand
  • I’ll admit I was wrong about the Mavs signing J.J. Barea. The guy has been great
  • Came to the realization that I’m old last night. An innocent game of pick-up basketball ended with a rolled ankle, split-open knee and a big toe that is not moving.

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Fantastic Four: Decatur senior quartet tries to lead  Lady Eagles to second crown

Fantastic Four: Decatur senior quartet tries to lead Lady Eagles to second crown

The statistics, accolades, wins and titles tell a story of unparalleled success for the quartet of Caroline Lowery, Cooper Martin, Makayla Mayfield and Stormi Leonard.

But it’s friendship that powers the success of Decatur’s “Fantastic Four.”

“We’re so close. We’re best friends on and off the court,” Lowery explained. “They’re like a security blanket. We’ve played club for years. I’ve been honored to get to play with them.”

Cencter of the Action

CENTER OF THE ACTION – The Decatur senior quartet of Makayla Mayfield, Stormi Leonard, Cooper Martin and Caroline Lowery have helped the Lady Eagles to four straight district titles and a second state tournament berth. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Friday the four will don the Decatur blue and white for the Class 4A semifinal at Garland’s Curtis Culwell Center at 1 p.m. to play for a spot in the University Interscholastic League championship on Saturday – the opportunity to win a second state title.

The four know that Friday or Saturday will be their last time together on the floor.

FIRING AWAY – Senior Cooper Martin and the trio of seniors she’s been on varsity with four years will try for a second state title this weekend. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It didn’t hit me until yesterday when Makayla tweeted out this was the last weekend of volleyball,” Leonard said. “This will be the last time we play together and put on this jersey. It’s sad to think it’ll be over. But it’s also exciting because we really want to win it again.”

The quartet first came together in fifth grade during intermediate school. Since then, they’ve been inseparable.

“We’ve been on the same club team, then played together in middle school and high school,” Mayfield said. “I’m either with them for volleyball or hanging out.”

Sometimes that spills over into the night for impromptu slumber parties.

“I’ve had them stay over on a school night,” Leonard said. “They are my family. My grandparents consider them their grandchildren. I see them more than my family.”

And like family, their relationships thrive on their vastly different personalities – ranging from goofy to intense.

“I’m the goofy outspoken one that is willing to do anything,” Leonard said.

Lowery is on the opposite end.

“I’m the serious one,” Lowery said. “People say they are scared of me off the court.”

Mayfield is the shy one in the group.

“I don’t talk much. Stormi does enough talking for all of us,” Mayfield jokes.

“The four of us keep each other accountable. We know what to say to each other and who will take it the best.”

Martin is the balance of all of the personalities.

“I’m the mix of Stormi and Caroline,” Martin explains. “It’s what helps us get along so well; we are so different.”

Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay agrees.

“They all bring something different,” she said. “At different times one personality is needed, and other times they need to be serious. Sometimes it’s best when nothing is said.

“With them being so different, they’ve been able to gel,” she said. “And with them being such friends off the court, it’s what kept them together and made them into a fierce group.”

After a successful middle school run, the four were identified quickly by Benedict-Gay as future cornerstones of the program. All four made the varsity as freshmen to play reserve spots behind the talented cast of seniors that included Kortney Tompkins and Joey Redwine.

“From the beginning, we knew this was a class to be reckoned with,” the Decatur coach said. “Their freshman season, they played some in different roles. But they were there and learned the system.”

Their sophomore year, the keys were handed over to the quartet to become the team leaders. They guided Decatur to its first region final before falling to Argyle.

At the end of the year, Leonard earned Wise County MVP and Martin the Offensive Player of the Year. Mayfield and Lowery earned all-county spots, and the quartet swept the superlative awards in 9-3A.

As juniors, the team was on a mission – win state. After sweeping their district, they dispatched Argyle in the playoffs in another five-set classic before taking the region title. They then cruised through the state tournament to capture the program’s first state title last November.

“It didn’t hit us what we accomplished until we saw it on TV,” Martin said. “We just did that. Then on the bus ride home, we said doing it twice would be pretty amazing.”

The Lady Eagles battled through an early schedule filled with state-contending 6A and 5A schools, finishing with a winning record. With the quartet leading the way, Decatur swept its district again, extending the program’s league winning streak to 56 games.

“It’s crazy when you think about what they’ve accomplished,” Benedict-Gay said. “They’ve never lost a district match or set. It’s hard to see them go. They’ve definitely set a high bar for the future of Decatur volleyball and will leave large shoes to fill.

“They’ve been like children. I’ve seen them grow not only through volleyball but life.”

After high school, Mayfield is headed to play at Texas Woman’s University with former Lady Eagle Redwine. Martin is going to Dallas Baptist to continue playing. Leonard is planning on playing on the next level, and Lowery has made the decision not to play in college, foregoing several opportunities.

“It’s crazy this is the last one,” Lowery said.

After four years have flown by one win at a time, the foursome has just one fantastic ending in mind – winning a second state title.

“It feels like our freshman year was last year,” Mayfield explained. “It’s crazy we’ve already spent four years playing. Hopefully we can end it on a good note.”

UIL VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland

4A SEMIFINALS

Friday, Nov. 21
Decatur vs. Robinson, 1 p.m. Argyle vs. Liberty Hill, 3 p.m.

4A FINAL

Saturday, Nov. 22
4A Final, 2 p.m.

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Volleyball: ELATED STATE – Lady Eagles claim clash of champs

In the clash of defending state champions, the Decatur Lady Eagles absorbed the first body blows from Bushland and middle blocker Anna Graham.

But the Lady Eagles (39-10) quickly got off the canvas after dropping the first set, making adjustments and beginning to land their own punches. Behind the clutch hitting of Caroline Lowery and Makayla Mayfield, they took the final three sets and the Class 4A Region I Final at Western Texas College’s The Coliseum in Snyder.

Decatur won 19-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17.

Jumping for Joy

JUMPING FOR JOY – Decatur libero Maclaine Lowery jumps in celebration after the Lady Eagles beat No. 2 Bushland in four games Saturday in the 4A Region I final at The Coliseum in Snyder. Decatur will take on Robinson in the 4A semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday in Garland. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“They came out with fire, and we were a little nervous because we knew it was only one game to state,” said Lowery, who was named the 4A Region I tournament MVP after putting down 16 kills in the final. “We worried too much about what they were doing [in the first set] instead of what we needed to do. After that, we started to play our game.”

Decatur returns to the University Interscholastic League volleyball championships at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland for a second straight year. They will take on Robinson in the 4A semifinal at 1 p.m.

“This has been on my mind the whole year,” said setter Stormi Leonard, who dished out 42 assists, earning a spot on the all-region team. “To make it back my senior season is all that I wanted.”

Argyle and Liberty Hill will play in the other state semifinal.

ON THE ATTACK – Decatur’s Caroline Lowery hits the ball during the Lady Eagles’ win over Bushland in the 4A Region I final. She was named the MVP of the regional tournament. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It’s easier to get to the top of the mountain. It’s hard to stay there,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “Setting up the preseason matches I did – and we were struggling mentally through them – but they were necessary for us to get where we wanted to be. We knew this team was in our region.”

Bushland (37-5), last year’s 2A champions, had the Lady Eagles on the ropes early behind Graham, who buried 17 kills from the middle of the floor.

“Their middle blocker was phenomenal. That’s something we’ve not seen,” Leonard said. “That’s not the game we play, and it’s something we’re not used to.”

Decatur also struggled to handle Bushland’s serving and to get a good pass to get into its offense.

“They served very well. That’s something we work on is siding out quickly,” Benedict-Gay said. “They kept us out of our system that first set. We finally settled down and started passing better and were able to run our entire offense.”

Bushland took the lead 13-12 on the first of two Decatur service errors in the opening set. That started a 6-0 run for the Lady Falcons.

Bushland captured the set on another Decatur service error.

After dropping their first set in a while, Decatur rebounded quickly.

“From our tough preseason, we played some really tough teams that pushed us ,and we knew what it was like to be in the situation – to be down and have to come back,” Lowery said.

Mayfield put Decatur up 6-3 with a big swing in the second set. The Lady Eagles then got their two middles, Courtnie Roberts and Emily Oxford, involved in the offense, putting down kills around another from Mayfield to put Decatur up 10-4.

“Making sure all our hitters were available was big for us,” Benedict-Gay said. “When they had to defend everyone, it left some 1-on-1s and some open shots.”

Mayfield finished the second set with a kill.

Decatur jumped out to a 5-0 lead in set three and took a 16-7 advantage on a Mayfield kill that bounced off a Bushland defender and nearly made it into the stands.

Mayfield finished the set with one of her 18 kills.

With a state berth in sight, Decatur took a 12-6 lead in set four on a Roberts block. A Roberts kill made it 19-10.

Lowery increased the lead to 23-16. Two Bushland hitting errors closed the match – and sent the Lady Eagles back to state.

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Volleyball: Serious power – Competitive Lowery fuels Lady Eagles

In the Class 4A Region I semifinal, Caroline Lowery swung her powerful arm and spiked the ball off a Big Spring player, who took several seconds before being able to get off the court.

The Decatur senior’s fury unleashed on a volleyball can be a terrifying sight to even her teammates.

“She gave me a concussion my sophomore year during a drill,” Decatur setter Stormi Leonard recalled. “I had a pad up as a blocker and the ball went by it and I took the hardest hit straight in the face.”

Destructive Force

DESTRUCTIVE FORCE – Decatur’s Caroline Lowery blasts a ball over Big Springs defenders during the Class 4A Region semifinal. Lowery put down 12 kills in the win. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Lowery’s power and skill has turned her into one of the state’s top hitters. Entering Friday’s Class 4A semifinal against Robinson, she has a team-high 471 kills, averaging 3.9 per set. Her hitting percentage on 1,107 attempts is .319.

“She’s had a great year and been a great leader,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay.

Lowery generates her jaw-dropping power despite being far from the tallest player on the floor. Instead of relying on height, she uses strength.

“I go to the gym and JRobs and work out,” Lowery said. “I’m always working the muscles in my legs.”

Another Honor

ANOTHER HONOR – Decatur’s Caroline Lowery accepts the Class 4A Region I tournament MVP award. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Benedict-Gay added: “She’s just strong. She works out in the gym and our offseason program. But she also plays a lot of volleyball.”

On top of that raw strength is a competitive drive to be the best that she credits her father Chris, a former football player at Oklahoma State, with giving her.

“He’s always been part of the reason. He’s pushed me – but I wanted to be like him,” Lowery said.

That competitiveness doesn’t stop when she steps off the volleyball court.

“I’ve always been competitive. I hate losing so much,” Lowery said. “That’s why in training I work so hard. My goal is to win everything.”

That strong desire to win gives her a near-stoic and intimidating demeanor between the lines, in sharp contrast to some of her light-hearted teammates.

“I don’t laugh for smile,” Lowery said. “Some of it is to intimidate the other team.”

Sometimes that intimidation carries over off the floor.

“People say they are scared of me off the floor,” Lowery admits.

While her demeanor intimidates some, her coach identifies with it.

“It is almost scary at times. She’s just extremely competitive,” Benedict-Gay said. “I appreciate it. I was that way when I played.”

While her ability to kill the ball has helped the Lady Eagles become a terrifying force, Lowery has turned into a complete player. She has a team-high 87 aces from the service line, and her 426 digs are second on the team.

Last year for part of the season, Lowery fought through a shoulder injury and wasn’t available to hit. She only played on the back row.

“It killed me, especially when we played Argyle at a tournament,” Lowery said. “I knew I could help. I hate sitting out more than anything.”

But after the state tournament this weekend, Lowery plans to stop playing volleyball. Despite inquiries from scouts about playing on the next level, she has decided not to pursue any college volleyball opportunities.

She plans to go to Oklahoma State, like her father.

“I could go somewhere else, but I don’t want to go to a college that I don’t want to just for volleyball,” Lowery said. “I want to study abroad.”

While she admits there’s a little burnout after playing club volleyball for many years, Lowery knows it will be a tough transition.

“It’s a huge part of my life,” she said. “It hasn’t hit me yet.”

But she could have at least two matches to take her own shots at anyone on the other side of the net.

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Volleyball: Decatur faces Robinson for spot in finals – Rockettes beat Bellville to reach state tourney

After recording 38 wins, the Decatur Lady Eagles are just two more away from the prize they covet – a second state title.

But to get that opportunity for a second state crown, the Lady Eagles (38-10) must get past Robinson in the 4A semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

Robinson (39-11) earned its spot in the state tournament by beating Bellville – who lost to Decatur in the state final last year – in the Region III final. Robinson won the match 25-23, 16-25, 25-23, 25-22.

The Rockettes, who are making their first state appearance since 1971, are led by outside hitter Bailey Meggs, who was the Region III tournament MVP.

She had 36 kills over two matches at the region tournament.

“They have one really good hitter,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “We have to be smart, make adjustments and pass the ball well.”

After facing the strong attacks of Big Spring and Bushland, the Lady Eagles feel they are prepared.

“We just need to focus on the gameplan and take care of stuff on our side of the net,” said Decatur senior setter Stormi Leonard.

Of teams at the state tournament in all classes, Decatur has faced four – League City Clear Falls, Argyle, Aledo and Brock.

The Lady Eagles are 3-2 against them, including a split with Aledo.

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Volleyball: Lowery lifts Lady Eagles to regional finals – Hitter buries 12 kills in win

Volleyball: Lowery lifts Lady Eagles to regional finals – Hitter buries 12 kills in win

The Decatur Lady Eagles struggled to break out of an early slumber Friday afternoon against Big Spring until Caroline Lowery delivered a wake-up call late in the first set.

Lowery punished back-to-back kills to put Decatur (37-10) in front 18-17. The Lady Eagles never trailed again on the way to a sweep of Big Spring in the 4A Region I semifinal at The Coliseum in Snyder.

One Step Closer

ONE STEP CLOSER – The Decatur Lady Eagles show a road map of their victories and are now heading to the region final Saturday. Decatur defeated Big Spring in three sets to win the semi-final round and will play Bushland 2 p.m. Saturday for a ticket to state. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“We weren’t expecting them to come out with as much fire. We knew they wanted to beat us after last year,” said Lowery, who finished with 12 kills, two aces and 1.5 blocks. “Once we got calm, everything came together.”

Decatur won 25-19, 25-13, 25-14, making a region final for a third straight year. They will play for a spot in the state tournament Saturday at 2 p.m. against Bushland or Abilene Wylie.

“I’m so excited. It’s hard not to look ahead,” Lowery admitted. “We have to keep focused.”

Victory

VICTORY – Cooper Martin pumps her fist as her teammates cheer in the background. Martin downed a dozen of the Lady Eagles 39 kills Friday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur defeated Big Spring last year in the 3A semifinal in three sets. Big Spring looked determined early for a different outcome behind the hitting of junior middle blocker Erin Pollard, who put down three early kills. She finished with eight.

Decatur also helped Big Spring early with three service errors and four hitting errors.

With her team down 14-12, Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay called a timeout.

“This team feels pressure like they have a statement to make,” said Benedict-Gay. “It took them a second to calm down and realize that they can control their side of the net.”

Even after the timeout, Decatur trailed until Lowery buried a kill with a big swing. Decatur setter Stormi Leonard immediately went back to Lowery for another kill to put the Lady Eagles in front.

“She definitely stepped up and made some great shots,” Benedict-Gay said. “She’s just a fighter. It’s been a few matches since I’ve seen that level from her. It’s good to see.”

Decatur ran off nine of the final 11 points in the set. Makayla Mayfield’s kill put the Lady Eagles at game point. Lowery’s ace finished off the set.

Lowery started the second set with a kill and then extended the Lady Eagles’ lead to 4-1 with a blast to the center of the floor.

“Our mentality was to crush them,” Lowery said. “We wanted to keep pushing them down and didn’t want them to come back.”

Two Courtnie Roberts blocks and one from Lowery stretched Decatur’s advantage to 15-8.

A Leonard ace made it game point. Mayfield then finished off the set with one of nine kills.

Sensing a chance for the sweep, Decatur jumped to a 10-3 lead in the third set on a Roberts ace.

Decatur finished with eight aces and served at 87.8 percent.

The Decatur advantage grew to 10, 24-14, on a Cooper Martin kill. Martin put down 12 of the Lady Eagles’ 39 kills. Decatur hit .330 for the match.

Stormi Leonard dished out 31 assists.

Her final assist on the left side allowed Lowery to appropriately end the match with a kill off the Big Spring block.

Now, just one more match to get back to Garland and continue the title defense. The Lady Eagles take on Bushland 2 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Benedict-Gay said.

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