BLOOMING GROVE — One by one they came to their feet and stood in unison Tuesday night, rising together to celebrate Mildred’s incredible volleyball season.
That’s the way the Lady Eagles’ season ended, with applause and tribute from a packed house of fans from Mildred who made the trip to Blooming Grove, where they watched their kids end their dramatic run in the playoffs with a tough loss to No. 3-ranked West in the Class 3A Region II bi-district playoffs.
A month ago it looked like Mildred wouldn’t make it to the postseason.
But Lawayne Siegert’s kids put it together for a memorable run through the second half of the district race and they won five of their six games to tie Palmer for the final playoff spot, and then beat Palmer in a do-or-die play-in game Saturday in Corsicana to earn (well, more than earn) a trip to the playoffs.
They made it to postseason but drew the toughest of draws and had to face one of the best 3A teams in Texas in the bi-district round.
The Mildred kids played West hard and played West tough in the three-set loss, and no matter how you measure it the Lady Eagles came away with a lot even in defeat.
All you had to do was look at the play of some of Mildred’s younger players like Kenli Dalton, a sophomore who plays much older and wiser, and Amy Adamson, a talented freshman who stood up to West all night and had her moments at the net Tuesday.
This team is full of youth and promise, and the experience of facing a top team in the playoffs will be invaluable in the next couple of years.
The Lady Eagles had big games from Dalton and Adamson and sophomore Landry Fleming, who does a little of everything, and does it well, and Mason Ivie, another strong sophomore player who is part of Mildred’s parade of underclassmen. Bailey Burks, Mildred’s tiny dynamo, is only a junior and will help lead the younger players when they return next year.
Of course, the Lady Eagles had plenty of leadership this season from seniors Nikki Turner, the libero and defensive leader, as well as Abby Huitt, who has been the glue in the middle for four years on Mildred’s volleyball court, and Lilly Hanna, the team’s Hammer at the net and leader in kills and blocks and so much more.
This group is one of the best to ever play volleyball at Mildred and only the fifth team in Mildred’s history to make it to the playoffs.
There had been a dought of postseason appearances when Siegert arrived to take over the program a year ago, and the new coach has made an immediate difference, putting his stamp on the program that has reached the playoffs two years in a row.
This group of players has its own place at Mildred because of its heart and energy that ignited the turnaround and the drive to the postseason.
There are always growing pains in any program that’s growing, and there were some tears at Blooming Grove Tuesday.
“I told them that every team in Texas ends its season in tears and only one has tears of joy,” Siegert said after game. “And West has the potential to be that one team.”
West might very well go on to win a state title.
The Lady Trojans are tall and experienced and deep in talent, and played like champions Tuesday.
That’s one reason Siegert and the big crowd from Mildred was so proud of the Mildred kids.
“Our kids worked their butts off. I’m very proud of them,” Siegert said. “Abby and Lilly stepped up big for us tonight. And we have a lot of young players who contributed a lot, freshmen and sophomores.
“Landry Fleming played very well,” he said.”And Kenli and Amy played very well tonight.”
Siegert knows what this season means to his players.
“I set two goals for our girls at the beginning of the season,” he said. “And they accomplished both of them. The first goal was to win more games than last year and they did that. We won 24 last year and this team won 26. The second goal was to make the playoffs, and we made the playoffs.”
It was a magical run for Mildred, and in the end the large crowd that filled every seat in the north bleachers and spilled over, gave the Lady Eagles a loud, standing ovation.
There’s no doubt Mildred will be back to the playoffs again, older wiser and hungry.
“I hope this makes them hungry,” Siegert said. “Hopefully they don’t want to feel this feeling (of losing) in the playoffs again. And hopefully we come back hungry next year.”
Hanna led the way at the net against West and slammed home nine kills, including some statement shots during the match.
Huitt had another outstanding night in the final game of her long career at Mildred, finishing with 10 assists and nine digs, and Fleming had her moments with some strong play at the net while leading the defense with 10 digs.
"I'm very pleased with each of these girls' efforts through the whole season," Siegert said of his players. "They fought hard until the very last point.
"They never give up."