By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Whose idea was this?
This wicked path, this road full of speed bumps and potholes and a cliff that was just waiting there.
No one ever said the road in the playoffs would be easy, but Corsicana didn’t catch any breaks when the Tigers drew Waxahachie in the opening round of the Class 4A volleyball playoffs.
They put the bi-district match at a neutral site in the Ennis High gym, but it felt like it was an uphill battle all night for Corsicana’s kids, who were forced to play their first playoff game in two years against one of the best programs in Texas.
Waxahachie swept the Tigers, 25-9, 25-12, 25-12 to advance to the Area round of the playoffs, and you can be sure there were some tears in the Corsicana locker room — a locker room that was also filled with hope for the future.
“You’ve got to start a tradition somewhere,’’ said Corsicana’s first-year coach Ashley Grace, who watched her team and her program put down some roots and grow this season. “We had a goal, a goal to get to the playoffs. We had other goals to reach. Everybody has the same goal (a state championship), but you have to start somewhere.’’
Grace’s kids did take steps, and made a mad dash to reach the playoffs, winning four of their last five District 16-4A games, including a do-or-die match against Tyler on the final day of the season. The Tigers swept that match and then hit a wall in the playoffs.
This was Waxahachie, a program full of year-round volleyball kids kids who play club volleyball, a program that is used to success and expects to make a run in the playoffs every year — especially this year. The Lady Indians are 36-6 and have won eight in a row. They’re ranked No. 12 in the state, and most in Waxahachie feel the team is better than that No. 12 ranking.
They played like it on Tuesday.
Corsicana had it’s moments. Briana Biltz, the senior captain and heart of this team, had some kills that left Waxahachie frustrated and senior McKenzie Lee, who has played better and better as the season wore on, had some brilliant moments at the net, blocking Hachie shots and turning back the Lady Indians, and sophomore Carly Cates had some impressive digs and ran off a 4-0 string of points from the service line in the second set to ignite the large crowd from Corsicana.
But Waxahachie would not be denied.
The Lady Indians simply fought back everything Corsicana threw at them. During one long volley in the opening set, Caroline Biltz, who is arguably the best freshman player in the Golden Circle and a lock to make the All-Golden Circle team, slammed one laser kill after another — four in a row — but Waxahachie just dug in and kept the ball alive time and time again.
Corsicana never stopped coming, but just fell short.
“It’s been a fun season. It’s hard to see it end,’’ Grace said. “As our season went on we really got going, and (against Waxahachie) we never gave up. We kept going even knowing what we were going to face when we came here. We gave effort and never stopped playing hard. I’m proud of them. I think we made progress in the program. We had a goal to get to the playoffs, and anything else was extra.’’
The Tigers captured the attention of the school and community and an incredibly large crowd showed up for the playoff game, including the Tiger mascot and a group of students who were bare-chested and painted in blue with yellow letters C - H- S painted on their chests, complete with blue and yellow glitter wigs just for the effect.
The program has indeed come a long way, and the season-ending record of 13-16 doesn’t indicate just how far volleyball at Corsicana came this season. But Grace also knows what’s ahead on the next road. Her team is loaded with youth. There were no juniors on this year’s team.
Seniors Biltz. McKenzie, Celcilia Lopez, Kim Moreno, McKala Goodwin, Veronica Reyes and Jennifer Garcia all had a part in the improved season, but Grace knows what’s ahead. Sophomores such as Cates, who was a dynamo, Mychellete Andrews, who had some brilliant moments at the net Tuesday including a dramatic block, Stephanie Willingham, who came on strong after being moved up to the varsity, and Teleia Braziel and Kara Schlenk, who had their moments down the stretch of the season, all are young and talented. Carolina Biltz had dominating moments all year and is only a freshman.
There were tears on Tuesday, but also a resolve to make the next step on the journey. The road won’t end here.
“I’m going to miss my seniors,’’ Grace said, her voice almost cracking. “But we have a bright future.’’