By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
There was that long volley, the kind the twists your stomach in knots and leaves sweat popping on your forehead, the kind that all too often defines a volleyball match.
The gut-wrenching volley came in the second set of Wortham’s area round playoff game against Thrall, and it seemed to last forever as the Sara Sessions dug in time and time again, and Elisha Libhart and Kierra Busby answered Thrall at the net over and over as the Wortham kids fought off one lashing slam after another from Thrall, one of the top 1A teams in Texas.
Then it ended when Thrall captured the point with a shot that wasn’t strong enough to score or good enough to change the game. But it did. The ball hit the top of the net and barely squeezed its way over, climbing just high enough to clear the net and fall to the ground -- just out of the reach of a diving, scrambling Wortham team.
The point, that cruel, net-hugging point, seemed to define that set and the match itself. It was just that kind of day for the Lady Bulldogs, who saw their season end in three close, hard fought sets, 25-18, 25-19, 25-17.
“I thought we did everything we could have done,” said Wortham Coach Larry Ward, who took over the program from his wife this year and watched his kids have a remarkable season. “I thought we played real well. But that’s a powerful program. They (Thrall) really are a good team. We played hard and gave it everything. My kids played their hearts out.”
They did, and many left the court in tears.
Others just hugged each other and shared the final moments of a season that had been so special at Wortham, where the Lady Bulldogs battled all year and then made a valiant run in the playoffs.
The three set sweep is no indication of what happened on the court in the Bremond High gym, where the two powers met in the area round of the Class1A state playoffs. Every set was close, and seemed to rock back-and-forth all afternoon, but Thrall was always there, just a step ahead of Wortham (24-16).
“They really played hard,’’ said Thrall Coach Bethany Grissom, whose team entered the playoffs ranked No. 6 n the state poll. The Tigerettes are now 34-9 and headed for the regionals, just two wins away from the Final Four.
“I scouted Wortham and knew they had a real good team, and they came out and they weren’t intimidated and came out ready to go. They stepped up their game and played us hard,” Grissom said. “That No. 10 (Busby), we couldn’t shut her down.”
Busby had her moments, slamming home some unforgettable kills, lightning bolts that even a seasoned and strong team like Thrall couldn’t handle. Busby finished with seven kills and six blocks and Libhart, who does just about everything for Wortham slammed home six kills and had three blocks. Sessions scrambled and fought all day, a turning back 13 digs while Kendle Rhodes, a sophomore, set up points, finishing with 18 assists and four digs.
Hannah McCord had four kills and sophomore Trinity Shivers, who worked her way up from the JV team and started the biggest game of the year, had three kills. Katie Looney had another scrappy game and nailed four aces and had two service runs in the second and third sets that ignited Wortham.
Ward was right. His kids played their hearts out.
They have been doing it all year, climbing out of one of the toughest districts in the state, which included four teams ranked in top 25. Wortham (No. 23) was one of them, and the Lady Bulldogs had to win a classic match with state-ranked Dawson just to get in in the playoffs. Kerens and Cayuga, the two teams that finished ahead of Wortham are still alive in the playoffs, which have 16 teams left in the state.
"Our goal was to make it to the regionals,'' Ward said. "We felt if we got there that anythng can happen.''
Wortham looked regional worthy even in the loss.
“Our tough district prepared us for this game,” Ward said. “We had to fight a lot to get to the playoffs.’’
It showed even in the loss. It was there all through the match, that character and talent and no quit that Wortham had all year. It was there.
“We battled,’’ Busby said. “We battled till the bitter end.”