Corsicana Daily Sun
Joanna Tapley had one of those smiles on her face — the kind you can’t get rid of — and she didn’t even care.
“I can’t help it,’’ she said moments after she had helped Mildred beat Rice in five sets Tuesday in a loud and passionate Rice gym. “I can’t help it. I just can’t stop smiling. This feels so good. We have never beaten Rice, not since our coach has been here.’’
That would be four years if anyone is counting.
And they’re counting at Mildred.
It was not only a big win for the morale of the program that has been rising since Joanna Vaden took over four years ago, but it lifted the Lady Eagles to a 2-0 record in the District 23-2A race against last year’s district runner-up and power Rice.
But don’t count Rice out of the race just yet. Sure, the Lady Bulldogs have had two tough losses to open the district race, losing to reigning champ Teague and falling in a tough, hard-fought match to Mildred on Tuesday.
“There’s no doubt in my mind with this group,’’ Rice coach Donna Gent said. “We might be down 0-2 but with this group there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can win the district.’
She meant it, and anyone who watched Rice fight back Tuesday would believe it, too. The kids from Rice just kept coming back until Mildred, which won the first two sets, 25-14, 25-18 and looked ready to sweep Rice, finally won in five. The Lady Bulldogs came back from a 21-16 deficit in Game 3, and were down to their last chance, trailing 24-22, when they rallied and won 26-24, thanks to an ace by Samantha Harris to knot the score at 24-24, a block by Sadie Gent to take a 25-24 lead and finally an ace from Harris to stay alive 26-24 to force a Game 4. Rice took over Game 4 and won 25-20 on a block by Kamran McGee for the final point, to force a fifth set.
Mildred found its composure, regrouped and took the match with a 15-8 win in the final set. The two teams fought through 19 ties over the final three sets.
“They played hard,’’ Vaden said. “We made some errors that cost us a little momentum in Games 3 and 4, and we needed to recover.
“In the fifth set they just figured out how to put their mistakes behind them and smoothed out their game.’’
Mildred was dominating at times, and there’s a reason the Lady Eagles look like a different team now that district has begun.
Tapley and Savannah Pritchett have both been out most of the season with either illness or injury, and both big hitters returned last week. Tapley, a 5-9 senior, and Pritchett, a 5-10 senior, are bombs away at the net, where they both had their moments Tuesday. They combined for 34 kills. Tapley had 19 kills and Pritchett had 14, thanks to Mildred’s ability to set the power hitters up all night. Enter Callie Bland, a 5-4 senior who had 32 assists — count em, 32. Bland also had 10 kills. Sagen Williams had eight assists and two aces, and Shelby Anderson had five kills.
Morgan McCreary took over in Game 1 at the service line and ripped off an 11-0 run, breaking a 14-14 tie and finishing up the 25-14 win at the line with an ace to win Game 1. She finished the match with seven aces.
Rice was led by Sadie Gent, who had five kills and was 10 for 10 serving with two aces. She had 10 digs and a block. Harris was 19 for 19 serving with three aces, five kills, five digs, and a block.
McGee had seven block and four kills for Rice, and Briana Weaver was 23 of 23 serving with an ace and also had five assists. Emily Fletcher was 9 of 9 serving with an ace and four digs.
But in the end the night belonged to Mildred (11-16-1 and 2-0), which left the gym cherishing the win.
“It’s the first time we’ve beaten Rice and it really feels great,’’ Pritchett said. “We came together as a team.’’
Tapley had her own word for how she felt.
“Amazing. It feels amazing,’’ she said.
Then she smiled again.