90° F Wednesday, July 26, 2017

By Kyle Gregory

Despite some uncharacteristically poor play, the Westlake volleyball team maintained its undefeated record in District 15-5A with a 25-18, 25-7, 25-16 sweep of Del Valle Oct. 19.

“We had a sluggish start and a very sluggish finish,” Westlake coach Al Bennett said. “There’s no excuse for it in the first game. I had no idea where their heads were. They weren’t ready to play, obviously. That’s the poorest performance we’ve had all year. In essence, the other team served the ball over the net and we couldn’t do anything with it.”

In the first game, Del Valle jumped to a six-point lead over a flat Westlake team before the Lady Chaps (22-19, 11-0) mustered so much as a return. After a Bennett time out, it was the seniors who got the Lady Chaps rolling. Katie Daffer, Anna-Christine Parrish and Grace Weghorst each came through with kills to help dig the Chaps out of their hole.

A Weghorst ace put Westlake ahead 12-11 and the Chaps managed to maintain the lead for the remainder of the game, but a scrappy Del Valle squad hung tough. The Cardinals battled, pulling within a single point of the Chaps late in the game, but they couldn’t keep pace with a suddenly clicking Westlake offense.

Westlake’s younger players shined in the Chaps most complete game of the match. For the second game, Bennett rotated in almost the entirety of his roster, and his players responded with a solid performance. Juniors Amelia Mouw and McKenzie Fell maintained a stout defense of the middle of the net, while sophomore Michelle Irvin took over for Weghorst and dished out several kills. Junior setter Molly Smith rounded out the group of promising youngsters. Smith finished the night with the most assists on the team, as well as three aces and a few sneaky kills that floated over the heads of an unsuspecting Del Valle defense.

“We haven’t had much experience on the court, but I think we did well for jumping in like that,” Fell said. “We could have done better in the third game, I don’t know if we ran out of steam, or what, but I think we did pretty good pulling through. There was a lot of motivation to prove that we’ve earned our spots.”

The second game also featured the return of sidelined senior Michelle Schuler, who underwent shoulder surgery at the beginning of the season.

Schuler subbed in with the Chaps up 23-5 and managed to deliver a successful, albeit labored, serve. Her second serve was less successful, bouncing off the net, but the Westlake bench was undeterred, as they cheered even louder for their teammate coming off of the court than at any other moment in the match.

“That was really exciting, being able to play again, after having shoulder surgery twice,” Schuler said. “Being a senior captain and not being able to set foot on the court made me feel that only my words and what I said would be able to help the team. Being able to serve made me feel like a part of the team and showed them that my playing can help them also.”

The final game was an amalgam of the previous two, as Westlake started slow, surged to a big lead and then slipped again toward the end. Del Valle came out swinging and took a 5-2 lead over the Lady Chaps as the young players suddenly played markedly different from their previous outing. Down 6-3, Weghorst briefly entered the game and immediately registered a kill. Following Weghorst’s appearance, Westlake regained their composure, as well as the lead. Schuler entered the game again with Westlake up 23-13. She managed another successful serve, but the Chaps failed to win the point. From that point, things went a bit awry. The Cardinals put up three more points before Westlake’s offense reignited and the Chaps put the game away.

“In between those two sluggish starts, we actually had some really good play,” Bennett said. “Michelle Schuler got her first action of the year, getting two of three serves. She served better than some of our other servers did tonight, so that was good. Kim (Anderson) got some action in and got a kill, Taylor (Meister) did a good job at libero, Jessie (Turner) did a great job serving the ball – we had some good things by some of our players.”

Weghorst led the team with eight kills. Defensively, Irvin led with two blocks and Fell with three digs. Smith finished with 13 assists and three aces.

Westlake wraps up the regular season at Bowie Oct. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

“Tonight wasn’t a very good indication of how we need to play at Bowie,” said Bennett. “They have to win to get in the playoffs. We expect a packed house and a hostile environment. We’re going to have to play some of our best volleyball of the year.”

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