Randall sweeps Alamo Heights but it wasn't easy
Coach Haleigh Burns left her alma mater of Caprock High School to take over a Randall HS volleyball program that has been to the UIL State Tournament five times since 2007, including last year as a state semifinalist.
This year's Raiders were out to claim their stake in Saturday's Class 5A state championship match. They accomplished that goal but it wasn't easy.
Randall fought off a rough start and swept Alamo Heights, 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-16) Friday morning at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
With the win, the Raiders (43-3) head to the 3 p.m. state final matchup Saturday against the winner of Friendswood and Lucas Lovejoy. The Mules of Alamo Heights finish their landmark season with a 35-10 record, which included their first-ever trip to state.
"I knew when we met up in March that this was the team that could get (the AHHS program) to state (for the first time), said first year head coach Alex Bothe. "They showed up ready to work and every day we went to the gym the girls showed they were determined to (make history).
"Despite losing in three sets, my girls never gave up. They never let balls just fall in and they pushed really hard. The whole community is proud of what they accomplished."
The Mules lose just two seniors - Avery Rosenblum and Faith Holzhausen - and return five freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors next season.
Alamo Heights came out on fire to start the match. They scored the first four points, courtesy of two Randall unforced errors, a kill by Kylie Wickley (team-high 12 kills along with three digs) and another unforced error.
But Haleigh Burns' crew steadied the ship and although they continued to trail by 3-4 points, they were able to settle in and match AH point-for-point.
A 6-2 run allowed the Raiders to tie the set at 18-all, The Raiders then ran off a quick 4-2 spurt to lead 22-20. Leading 23-22, the Raider got back-to-back kills from Brianna Ford (match-high 19 kills, along with three digs, three total blocks and one assist) to close out the first set.
The start of Set 2 resembled Set 1 a bit: the Mules jumped to a quick 3-0 lead and Randall battled back. This time though, it was the Raiders who took a big lead (13-7 after an ace by Merritt Snell (11 assists, seven digs and two aces) then saw AH climb back in courtesy of a 9-3 run to tie it at 16.
Both teams traded small leads when, tied at 21-21, the Raiders got a kill from Addison Norman, then kept the Mules at bay until a hitting error gave the Raiders the second set, 25-23.
Heights hung around in Set 3 until a 7-0 scoring run opened the Raiders' lead to 20-13. The Mules fought hard but could never get back within five points after that.
"I really had some big shoes to fill coming here to Randall," Burns said. "Jason Culpepper left a great mark on this program. I came in and to try and continue that tradition and I think we're headed in the right direction.
"We try to control the first five points of a match but obviously we didn't do that today. But our girls settled in and were able to overcome the emotion and energy of Alamo Heights."
Toryn Barrientos added 20 assists and six digs to the Randall effort while Ruby O'Brien dished out 25 assists and made 10 digs for Alamo Heights.