Motivated Ridge Point at state for 3rd time in 4 years
Depth and a semblance of disrespect have fueled Ridge Point's third trip to the state volleyball tournament in four years.
These Panthers aren't the Panthers of yesteryear, however, when Skylar Fields (now at Texas) and Reagan Rutherford (University of Kentucky) dominated, winning games practically on their own. These Panthers are deep, talented, versatile and all for one and one for all, with contributions coming from all four classes.
"From top to bottom, from 14-year-old to 18-year-old, we're all the same," senior Kayla Wilson said. "We're all equally as good. No one thinks they're better than anyone else. That's what I love about this team. We're together."
And these Panthers didn't just expect to earn another trip to Garland. They thirsted for it. They didn't like that "Ridge Point" wasn't the first thing out of people's mouths in 2020 when the conversation of Greater Houston volleyball excellence arose.
They wanted back on top of the mountain. They fought for it. To "#defytheodds," as their team motto and social media war cry goes.
"We had motivation losing in the first round last year," coach Lauryn Bailey said. "After the 2019 team graduated, people brushed us under the rug. They said we didn't have much talent.
"This year, with people counting us out, our girls took that personally. The odds are stacked against us, and we've preached keep working."
Ridge Point (38-10) is hoping the third time is the charm when it comes to returning home with a state championship trophy and gold medals wrapped around necks. The Panthers, who play 31-12 Keller in the 6A state semifinals Friday, have established a dynasty of sorts.
How they've done it this year is different. They've adopted an us-versus-them mentality. Their mindset is no longer to be the hunted. It's to be the hunter.
It's carried them to 25 wins in the last 27 games.
"I knew we could go out and shock the world," junior Sydney Jordan said. "No one expected anything out of us this season. But we're back in it, and we're in it to win it."
Jordan leads the team with 2.9 kills per set. Five other Panthers average at least 1.4 kills per set: senior Alexis Roberson (2.3), senior Nina Moorer (1.7), freshman Kennedi Rogers (1.5), junior Arissa Smith (1.4) and Wilson (1.4).
Senior Nylah Raspberry is the team's heart and soul. While the libero averages 5.4 digs per set, it's her emotional leadership in holding others accountable that has been her biggest impact.
But it's been Wilson, a transfer from Shadow Creek, and an injection of youth in freshmen Rogers and Aaliyah Smith, and sophomores Lauren Battle and Carrington Cook that proved game-changing for the Panthers.
"We all have a good relationship throughout the team," Cook said. "In practice, we all push each other, and, yes, the expectations are very high, but we all come together as a family to meet those expectations."
Practices have been more competitive this season because of quality depth, allowing Bailey more to work with.
"We're actually able to play six-on-six and make subs and actually get better when we play each other (in practice), rather than have a dominant side versus a not-dominant side," said Bailey, who can rotate players in and out at various points during games and not suffer a letdown in production.
That cohesiveness on the court has translated off it. Players said there were cliques last year. The team just didn't mesh. Hence, a 15-8 record and abrupt first-round playoff exit.
This year, everyone is on the same page.
"We just have a much better connection as a team," Roberson said. "We trust each other more. We lean on each other."
When Wilson arrived to Ridge Point this year, she'd heard a lot about the volleyball team. The program. The culture. The trips to state. She was excited to get an opportunity to be a part of it.
Once Wilson started playing with her teammates and getting to know them and the coaches, though, her expectations were thoroughly exceeded.
"I had no idea it would be this supportive," Wilson said. "Since day one, Coach Bailey has always emphasized the importance of togetherness. It means a lot when the community, school, and staff have our backs and support us the way it does here. When we have a goal, we go get it. When we want something, we come together, and we work for it."
Keep working, as Bailey stresses. The end goal remains so very close.