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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Volleyball: Defense spurs Lady Eagle to win – Decatur makes 52 digs in sweep

Tested at the net by Stephenville 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.

Net Advantage

NET ADVANTAGE – Cooper Martin and Emily Oxford go up for a block against Stephenville Tuesday. The Lady Eagles swept to move onto the semi-regional round. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“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 (33-10) moves on to the 4A Region I tournament Friday to play Big Spring at 1 p.m. at West Texas College’s Coliseum in Snyder. Big Spring rallied to beat Dalhart in five games Tuesday to advance to the region semifinal.

The Lady Eagles will be making their third straight regional trip.

“We still get so excited about every match and every win,” Martin said.

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 a Decatur 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 and sent the Lady Eagles west for their next opponents.

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Volleyball: Mayfield lands at TWU

Over the past four years, Makayla Mayfield has punished opponents at the net with her hitting.

Next year, she will be looking to do the same at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

Breaking the Trail

BREAKING THE TRAIL – Makayla Mayfield is joining the Settlers at Texas Woman’s University. She will play volleyball. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The Decatur senior signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play volleyball at TWU.

“I really liked the school and the campus and thought I’d fit in with the team,” Mayfield said about her choice of TWU.

“I’m excited to get the chance to play at the next level and try to do as good as we’ve done here.”

Mayfield picked TWU over Cameron and Southwestern Oklahoma.

“I thought TWU was the best fit,” she said.

In her four years on the court for the Lady Eagles she’s been a dominating outside hitter, especially as a junior when she helped Decatur capture the program’s first state title. Mayfield earned 9-3A, Class 3A and Wise County MVP awards. She was also named Wise County Female Athlete of the Year.

This season, Mayfield has 432 kills, averaging 3.5 per set. She leads the team with 478 digs.

“Sometimes teams don’t look at her as a threat, but she’s definitely a threat on defense and offense,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “She’s savvy with her ability to find shots, which along with her natural ability makes her effective.”

At TWU, Mayfield will join former Decatur standout Joey Redwine, who is a setter for the Pioneers.

“It’ll be good to play with Joey again,” Mayfield said. “I got to play with her when I was a freshman, and now I’ll get to play with her for her senior year of college, too.”

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Volleyball: Martin joins DBU

Cooper Martin has made opponents pay with her strong shots from the right side of the Lady Eagles’ attack for the past four seasons.

Patriot Games

PATRIOT GAMES – Decatur’s Cooper Martin will play volleyball for the Dallas Baptist University Lady Patriots. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

She will do the same next year at Dallas Baptist University. The Decatur senior signed with the four-year school Wednesday.

“It makes me excited to think about my future there,” Martin said. “I can’t wait for it to get here.

“I like that it’s a Christian environment and the volleyball program is good. It’s also local so I can come back and watch my sister play.”

Martin expects to step on the court right away next fall.

“They were looking for my position on the right side,” Martin said.

After breaking into the Lady Eagles’ lineup as a freshman, Martin has been one of the program’s top hitters the past three years. She helped the Lady Eagles to their first state title last season.

“This experience has been crazy but amazing,” Martin said. “All the seniors are my friends and to win a state title and be as successful as we’ve been has been a lot of fun.”

This season, she is third on the team in kills with 403, averaging 3.2 per set, going into the region final this weekend.

“Teams have always been threatened by her offensive skills,” said Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay. “Along the way, she’s learned to be smart with her shots. She’s also grown into an effective blocker, and her serving has been spot-on.”

Martin knows she will need to continue to grow her game to compete in college.

“I need to work on my mental toughness to be ready to be consistently on my ‘A’ game,” Martin said.

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Volleyball: Lady Eagles dispose of Iowa Park in 3

Volleyball: Lady Eagles dispose of Iowa Park in 3

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 Saturday at Jacksboro.

Area Champs

AREA CHAMPS – A jubilant Lady Eagles volleyball team poses for a photo opportunity in Jacksboro Saturday after sweeping Iowa Park. Decatur is scheduled to play Stephenville Tuesday evening in Weatherford, with the winner earning a berth in regional tournament at Snyder. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

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.

The loss ended Iowa Park’s season at 22-18.

Decatur moved on to play Stephenville in the 4A Region I quarterfinal Tuesday in Weatherford. With a victory, the Lady Eagles would earn a trip to the 4A Region I tournament Friday and Saturday at West Texas College in Snyder.

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Volleyball: Callisburg sweeps Paradise

The Paradise Lady Panthers couldn’t catch the breaks they needed Tuesday to take down the Callisburg Lady Cats.

Paradise fell in three games 25-18, 25-22, 25-13 in the Class 3A Region II bi-district match at Krum’s Bennie Enis Gym.

The Lady Panthers fell behind in all three sets and couldn’t catch up.

Coming Up Short

COMING UP SHORT – Paradise’s Bailee Miller and Johnna Headley try to block a shot during the Lady Panthers’ loss to Callisburg. Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt

“We let our mistakes and frustrations get to us,” said Paradise senior outside hitter Jett Preather. “We were told where to go and how to play. We just had people break down.”

The Lady Panthers were whistled for several double hits in the match, keeping them from capitalizing on opportunities and giving Callisburg momentum.

“Every time we set up we were called for a double hit,” said Paradise coach Susie Burt. “We were called for nine in the first game. We were trying to adjust to that all night.”

Around the hitting errors, Preather put down 14 kills to lead the Lady Panthers.

“Jett had a tremendous match,” Burt said.

Shelby Bradshaw and Reagan Taylor recorded four kills each. Taylor also had three blocks.

After the rough opening game, Paradise battled Callisburg within three in the second. Callisburg then dominated the third set, jumping out to a 20-7 lead on an ace by Kelsey Williams. Callisburg’s BreAnna Voglesong put the Lady Cats at match point.

A Paradise service error ended the match and the season for the Lady Panthers.

“It was a memorable season. It’s the last time I’ll ever play volleyball,” Preather said.

Preather was one of five Paradise seniors who played their final match.

“They will be very hard to replace,” Burt said. “They are a tremendous group that worked hard and brought a lot of leadership.”

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Volleyball: Lady Pirates sink Lady Dragons

The Chico Lady Dragons’ first playoff appearance in three seasons was cut short Tuesday night.

Collinsville’s Lady Pirates swept the Lady Dragons out of the playoffs with a 25-14, 25-14, 25-14 victory in the Class 2A bi-district match at Texas Woman’s University’s Kitty Magee Arena in Denton.

TAKING A SHOT – Chico’s Destinee Hardee serves the ball during the Lady Dragons’ loss to Collinsville. Messenger Photo by Mack Thweatt

Chico struggled throughout the match with unforced errors.

“We gave them too much,” said coach Missy Patterson. “We didn’t force anything and made things too easy for them. When we did the little things we were OK. But we struggled making simple passes.

“None of them have been to the playoffs before, and we didn’t handle the pressure. Hopefully, it was a learning experience.”

Chico fell behind early in all three sets.

Collinsville built a 20-10 lead in the opening set and won on a Chico error.

The Lady Pirates scored the first seven points in the second game.

Chico fought back to pull within three, 15-12, on a Collinsville error. Collinsville then turned the tide with five straight points. Two York kills brought Chico back within six, before Collinsville put the set away.

Collinsville jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the third set on a Brooke Johnson kill. The Collinsville advantage grew to 20-10 with back-to-back aces from Laurine McAden.

The match ended with a pair of Chico errors.

The match was the final one for four Chico seniors. The Lady Dragons will return eight players, including leading hitter Alli York and setter Britton Petty.

“We’ve got a good group of young players we hope that will step up,” Patterson said. “We’re losing some seniors, and they worked so hard.”

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Volleyball: Lady Eagles ready to get back on court – Decatur meets Iowa Park in area match

Since their quick sweep of Venus Monday, the Decatur Lady Eagles have been sequestered to the gym, practicing for their next match.

To senior setter Stormi Leonard, it can’t get here soon enough.

“We really want to play,” Leonard said. “This is the longest break we’ve had all season. We’re ready to go. We’re tired of practicing.”

Leonard gets her wish at noon Saturday. The Lady Eagles will take on old district rival Iowa Park in a Class 4A Region I area round match in Jacksboro.

While the two teams have not been in the same district since 2009, there is plenty of history between the programs. Iowa Park is the last team to prevent Decatur from winning a district title, back in 2008.

The two have met several times in the regular season and at tournaments over the years.

“We’ve played them so often over the years and I grew up playing them that it’s like a rivalry,” Leonard said. “It’s always a good match.”

Iowa Park, the runner-up in 5-4A, outlasted Brownwood in five games Tuesday to reach the area round. Iowa Park won the fourth game 33-31 to force the fifth set, which it took 15-10.

Decatur had a far less stressful match in bi-district, sweeping Venus, 25-6, 25-3, 25-7.

“It was a good match for us. We spread the ball around,” Leonard said. “In every playoff game , our goal is to get better.”

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Volleyball: Lady Eagles blast Venus in playoff opener

Volleyball: Lady Eagles blast Venus in playoff opener

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

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.

Winning Feeling

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

“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 Lady Eagles 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.

With the first playoff victory, Decatur moves on to the area round to play the winner of the Iowa Park/Brownwood match later this week.

“We’re a step closer,” Mayfield said.

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Volleyball: Perfect again – Lady Eagles close sixth straight unbeaten run through district

Volleyball: Perfect again – Lady Eagles close sixth straight unbeaten run through district

The Decatur Lady Eagles’ dominance in district play continues.

The Lady Eagles closed a sixth straight perfect run through league play Tuesday with a sweep of Springtown 25-13, 25-7, 25-11.

Keeping Streak Going

KEEPING STREAK GOING – Decatur’s Makayla Mayfield (11) celebrates a point during the Lady Eagles’ win over Springtown Tuesday. The Lady Eagles finished off their sixth straight unbeaten run through district play with the victory. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“It’s a really big accomplishment,” said Decatur senior hitter Caroline Lowery.

Decatur finished District 8-4A 8-0 and extended its winning streak to 56 matches in league play – stretching back to 2008. The Lady Eagles have also not lost a set since October 2009.

The Decatur seniors finished their careers without losing a set or match in district play.

“It’s almost a like a relief,” said senior setter Stormi Leonard. “We were so close last year to losing the undefeated sets streak against Krum. Even this year it was stressful, though we were supposed to be the best team.”

Unstoppable

UNSTOPPABLE – Decatur’s Stormi Leonard (1) and Emily Oxford (15) jump to block a ball during the Lady Eagles’ sweep of Springtown. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay added praise for her squad.

“It’s a fantastic accomplishment to stay focused and handle the different situations every step of the way,” she said.

The Lady Eagles (32-10) will move on to the 4A playoffs and focus on winning a second straight state title. Decatur will open the postseason with a bi-district match against the fourth-place team from 7-4A Venus at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Saginaw Chisolm Trail.

“We’re definitely looking ahead,” Lowery said. “We’re so excited to start the playoffs and to try to accomplish what we did last year.”

Leonard added: “This is everything we’ve worked for. The next matches mean everything. We still have the fire. It’s one thing to win one title. To win two is unbelievable and something not many people do.”

Through the first two sets Tuesday it looked like the Lady Eagles may have been already focused on the next step. Benedict-Gay pointed out that her team entered the third set hitting under .200.

“We didn’t play well,” she said. “They’re getting antsy to move on.”

The Lady Eagles put it together in the final set to raise their hitting percentage to .245 for the match with 36 kills. Decatur put down 15 finishers in 29 attempts in the third game.

Lowery led the way with 11 kills. Makayla Mayfield added 10 kills, and Cooper Martin six.

Leonard dished out 30 assists.

“We could tell coach was getting mad, and we didn’t want to run in the morning. We were able to finish strong,” Lowery said.

The Lady Eagles served 11 aces. Courtnie Roberts and Maclaine Lowery served three each.

Defensively, Emily Oxford blocked five shots. Martin and Mayfield had two apiece.

Martin also made 13 digs. Mayfield finished with 12.

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Volleyball: 5-6A champs topple Northwest

Camryn Berryhill’s 12 kills and Tessa Harfield’s 10 were not enough to knock off the District 5-6A champions from Denton Guyer Tuesday.

Guyer won in four sets, 22-25, 25-21, 25-8, 25-15 in the district finale for both squads.

Guyer moves on to the playoffs as 5-6A’s top seed. The loss ends the Lady Texans’ season, the first under coach Amy Gaston, at 15-26 and 5-9 in district.

The Lady Texans took the first set, hitting .162. For the match, Northwest hit .173 with 41 kills.

Bailey Cagle had eight kills, while Morgan Baker dished out 18 assists and Analise Lucio finished with 10 helpers.

Lucio and Christine Ruybalid netted a pair of aces each.

Defensively, Tatum Talley made 16 digs. Berryhill finished with 12, and Ruybalid 11.

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Volleyball: Lady ‘Jackets end with win, short of playoffs

The Boyd Lady Yellowjackets finished off the season with a sweep of Jacksboro.

The Lady Yellowjackets won 25-10, 25-14, 25-14.

The victory moved Boyd to 8-6 in District 9-3A, but it was not enough to put the Lady Yellowjackets into the playoffs for a second straight year.

Holliday claimed the fourth playoff seed from 9-3A with a win over Bowie.

In her final match, Maddie Busch blocked five shots and put down 11 kills.

Baylie Harris handed out 17 assists. Morgan Abbott finished with 15 helpers.

Kayleigh Pappajohn recorded 13 kills.

At the service line, Abbott served five aces.

Defensively, Pappajohn finished with seven digs. Britney Howard had five.

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Volleyball: Castleberry hands Sisses loss in district finale

The Bridgeport Sissies fell in their season finale Tuesday against Castleberry in three games.

Castleberry won 25-22, 25-4, 25-11.

Bridgeport’s season ends at 5-27 and 0-8 in District 8-4A.

Jessica White put down five kills for the Sissies. Kendall Scott added four. Taylor Jamieson finished with three.

Ryhan Read handed out six assists. Nikkie Barbour recorded five, and Scott four.

Scott also served a pair of aces.

Defensively, Mariah Leyva made 10 digs. Read and Jamieson finished with five digs each.

Jessica White blocked three shots, and Sadie White two.

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Volleyball: Lady Panthers open playoffs with Callisburg

After three straight losses to end the first half of District 9-3A play, the Paradise Lady Panthers’ playoff hopes were dim.

But behind their senior leaders, the Lady Panthers regrouped and won five of their final seven to grab third place in the district. They will open the playoffs against Callisburg at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Krum.

Rising to Occassion

RISING TO OCCASION – Paradise’s Johnna Headley (1) and Jett Preather (2) jump to block a ball against Boyd. The Lady Panthers won five of their final seven district matches to make the playoffs. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“They really stepped up and played hard,” said Paradise coach Susie Burt. “The seniors stepped up and played great.”

It was the second loss in the that three-match losing streak – against rival Boyd – that Burt said began her team’s turnaround.

“The Boyd loss was a wake-up call,” Burt said. “We knew Boyd would be tough. But we didn’t play up to our expectations. That loss refocused us.”

One of the big catalysts for the Lady Panthers’ resurgence over the second half of district play was senior Jett Preather. She averaged 13.5 kills per match in the second half. She recorded 25 in the rematch against Boyd.

“After the first three matches of district, I didn’t play well and was very angry,” Preather said. “I knew I should be stepping up. I needed to make smarter decisions and get every ball down.”

Burt praised Preather’s assertiveness during the Lady Panthers’ recent 5-2 stretch.

“She’s been the one saying give me the ball,” Burt said. “She’s getting the ball and finding a way, whatever she has to do to get the ball on the floor.”

Playing Callisburg, the runner-up from District 10-3A, the Lady Panthers know they must perform.

“If we play up to our potential, we can make a good run,” Preather said. “We have to stay focused.

“In the second game we get relaxed. We have to keep playing.”

The Lady Panthers head into the playoffs off a loss after falling to Nocona Tuesday in three games, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22.

Preather put down 11 kills in the loss. Shelby Bradshaw finished with nine.

Reagan Taylor blocked five shots to go along with four kills.

Amber French made 15 digs, and Madi Horne 14.

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Volleyball: Lady Dragons make playoffs

The Chico Lady Dragons make their return to the playoffs for first time since 2011 Tuesday.

The Lady Dragons, who finished third in District 9-2A, will open the postseason at 7 p.m. at Texas Woman’s University in Denton against former district rival and 10-2A runner-up Collinsville.

The entire Chico roster will be making their playoff debut.

“They are excited and will be as ready as they can be,” said Chico coach Missy Patterson. “It makes it that much more exciting with it being their first experience. It may be overwhelming but they’ve got to step in there and do it.”

Patterson said it should help her young squad, facing a familiar foe in Collinsville, who it shared a district with last year.

“They are an old rival,” Patterson explained. “Sometimes when you know people on the other team it gets you fired up. They’ve got a little more height. We know how they move and execute. Blocking is something we have to figure out. We make things too easy on offense for opponents sometimes.”

The Lady Dragons head into the playoffs after dropping their last three district matches. Chico lost its regular season finale Tuesday to Poolville 26-24, 25-23, 25-22.

“We did not play good against Poolville,” Patterson said.”I hope that fires them up.”

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Volleyball: Lady Panthers push Boyd to brink

The Paradise Lady Panthers locked up a playoff spot and pushed the Boyd Lady Yellowjackets to the brink of elimination from the postseason hunt Friday.

After dropping the first game, Paradise took the next three sets to win 15-25, 26-24, 25-19, 25-23 to move to 9-4 in District 9-3A.

It was the 400th victory for Paradise coach Susie Burt.

Taking Aim

TAKING AIM – Paradise’s Reagan Taylor hits the ball over Boyd blocker Baylie Harris and Maddie Busch during the Lady Panthers’ win at Boyd High School gym Friday. Paradise locked up third place in the league with the win. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Boyd fell to 7-6 in district with its fourth straight loss. The Lady Yellowjackets needed a win Tuesday over Jacksboro and a Bowie victory against Holliday to secure the league’s last playoff berth. Holliday, who swept Boyd, would earn the spot with a win or Boyd loss.

Jett Preather paved the way for the Lady Panthers Friday with a dominating effort on both sides of the net. She buried 25 kills and made 23 digs.

Shelby Bradshaw added 15 kills, and Reagan Taylor 10. Amber French chipped in eight kills.

Defensively, Madi Horn made 23 dig. French dug 19 shots, and Emily Corbin 18.

Maddie Busch paced the Lady Yellowjackets with 12 kills. Kayleigh Pappajohn and Baylie Harris put down 10 kills apiece.

Morgan Abbott had 15 assists, and Harris 12.

Busch blocked six shots, and Linsey Chancellor four.

Harris served five aces.

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