LONGVIEW — All season long the Central Heights Lady Blue Devils found a way to overcome obstacles they faced, and did so by winning more than 40 matches and returning to the Class 3A Region III volleyball tournament.
But they ran into a team Friday night in the semifinals that found a way to keep the ball from hitting the floor on their side of the net just enough to clip the Lady Devils in a close three-set match here in Lobo Coliseum, as No. 2-ranked West advanced to the regional final with a 25-20, 26-24, 26-24 win.
The season ended for No. 7-ranked Central Heights with a 41-9 mark, as the Lady Devils held a ranking of No. 4 in the state earlier this season, but dropped their final match just two wins short of a berth into the Class 3A State Tournament.
They overcame the loss of one of their top players this season when junior outside hitter Laura Bradford was forced to have shoulder surgery and miss most of the year. Yet young players came through and assisted the team — along with seniors Chloe Cook, Britton Arrant and Grace Haley — and helped the Lady Devils to better last season’s 38-win performance.
“It’s been an incredible season, and we’re never going to define the success on how it ends,” said second-year CHHS head coach Logan Smoak. “Of course you want to go to the state tournament and win it, but this one game is not going to define us or the program.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to be here and thankful for the kids that helped us get here. They overcame a lot of adversity and a lot of young girls had to play key roles — and I even got some sophomores in the game tonight that hadn’t played in the playoffs.
“The future of our program is really looking bright. It’s fun to be at the regional tournament, but we just don’t want to simply come back, we want to come back and win it.”
West continued on to the regional final on Saturday, where the Lady Trojans squared off with Lexington, a team that captured a 3-0 win over East Bernard Friday night.
The match between Central Heights and West was close throughout, but it was the play of Lady Trojan libero Claire Simmons that led the squad, in addition to strong net play up front.
“In the games past, a lot of the balls we were swinging at seemed to go down more often, where today their libero [Simmons] was just phenomenal,” Smoak continued. “She just did not let the ball hit the floor. We tried to keep the ball away from her as much as we could, yet she still found the ball.
“A lot of plays that we worked on and things that we planned on didn’t come through. There were some areas we could have been a little more aggressive — and we tipped the ball a little too much — but they are a great team and we wish them the best of luck.”
Cook led the Central Heights attack with 21 kills, 10 assists and four digs, while junior Lainee Clement added eight kills, sophomore Ellie Davis chipped in four kills, Arrant finished with three kills and four digs, junior Emily Petty created 27 assists, Haley added a pair of kills, seven digs and an assist, and junior Taylor Chambers secured seven digs, an assist and two kills.
Neither team built more than a two-point lead in the opening set until West went on a 5-0 run to build a 13-8 lead and force a Lady Devil timeout. Central Heights cut the deficit to three on two occasions, but the West lead grew to six points five times before the Lady Trojans claimed the 25-20 win.
West took a 4-0 lead to begin the second set, but the Lady Devils came back to eventually grab a 10-9 lead with a 4-0 run, finishing with a Cook service ace.
The Lady Trojans led by four twice, before CHHS used a 4-0 run with blocks from Clement and Haley, and a service ace from Arrant to tie the set at 18-18. The Lady Blue Devils led 23-21 on a kills by Davis, but West scored three straight points before Cook knotted the score at 24-24 with a kill. WHS then scored two straight points to end the set, 26-24, and grab a 2-0 lead in the match.
Trailing 10-8 in the third set, Central Heights went on a 5-0 run, with Arrant posting two kills, Haley and Cook adding one, and Arrant producing a block, as CHHS gained some momentum. But 6-0 run by the Lady Trojans gave them a 16-13 lead.
Not quitting, the Lady Devils scored four straight points to grab a 17-16 lead, and the teams fought back-and-forth until the Lady Trojans led 24-22. After two straight Central Heights points tied the set at 24-24, West ended the match with two straight points.