Courtesy photo/CISD

Corsicana's Lady Tigers volleyball team had a season they will never forget.

Mashequa Gentry paused for a second, and said the word over and over.

"Adversity, yeah there was adversity this year -- a lot of adversity," she said.

Gentry's Corsicana Lady Tigers had just seen their season come to an end in a Class 5A bi-district loss to Highland Park's powerhouse team in Midlothian Thursday night.

But she didn't talk like a coach who just lost. There was more victory in her voice and more pride in her team than most winning coaches will ever have.

That's what adversity and growth teaches, and Gentry and her kids learned about both in this insane season in this insane time of COVID-19. 

She didn't even mention that two of her best players -- juniors Brinly Burke and Madison DePugh -- didn't play in the playoff match Thursday because of injuries.  

She did talk about how both will be back and stronger than ever at the net, where the twosome will surely lead the program next year, and talked about how much this season meant to everyone in the program.

It showed Thursday in the opening set when the Lady Tigers went toe-to-toe with one of the top 5A programs in the state, a Highland Park team that was raised on club volleyball and had five players at least 6-foot tall, including two heading for Division I volleyball. The Lady Scots have now won 15 in a row.

"We got out there and fought hard," Gentry said. "We showed a lot of heart and showed a lot of passion about keeping our season alive. I think we surprised a lot of people. Like I told the kids, I'm very proud of them.

"This year has been different for a couple of reasons," she said. "Our team chemistry was really good this year, and the kids had fun and really competed.

"Coming off a rebuilding season our girls really competed every single night, and our district is really a tough district, maybe the toughest district in the state with Midlothian and Red Oak at the top and really good programs at Joshua and Cleburne."

The Lady Tigers battled all year and were in fifth place going into their final match when they were moved up to fourth place and into the playoffs when Red Oak had to cancel its season because of COVID-19 issues.

Had the Lady Tigers been in another district they would have made the playoffs easily, but in the end they were just ecstatic to be in the postseason.

"We were happy to have the opportunity," Gentry said. "The majority of the team (all but two girls) had never played in a playoff game. We definitely got some playoff experience. We will definitely come back hungry next year." 

The Lady Tigers lose three seniors, including Iriadna Sifuentes, an invaluable libero who led the team on defense (she had seven exceptional digs Thursday), and Lara Bwicheilug, a rare four-year starter who led the team in assists and aces and did everything following the success of her older sisters who left their marks on the program. She had 12 assists, five digs and two aces Thursday. By the way, there's one more Bwicheilug on the way. That's Alexus, an eighth-grader who will be on the court next fall.

Then there's Gabby James, who emerged as the heart and soul of this team after coming to Corsicana as a junior. She finished her two-year volleyball career with the Lady Tigers Thursday, torching Highland Park's big front line for 10 kills and diving for nine digs -- and leaves after making a giant footprint on the program.

"Gabby brought a toughness and a grit and a competitive spirit and leadership to the program, not to mention that I could put her anywhere and she would be successful," Gentry said.

There's a lot coming back, including Kayla Tidwell.

"She (Tidwell) showed tremendous growth this year for us," Gentry said, "She will be a force to be reckoned with next year."

The emergence of Burkes and DuPugh, whom Gentry said made giant strides this season and will be leaders at the net and on the court next year, and the rise of young players such as Blair Dunn, Kayla Esa and Madison Green and Kitana Elias, who stepped in and stepped up, makes for a strong foundation next season.

No one will forget 2020.

"This season has been a wild ride," Gentry said. "You had injuries and had all the COVID issues. It was like nothing we have ever seen. We were excited to make the playoffs, and we really got after it and competed all year. I am so proud of them ...

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