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Cinco Ranch is in the regional quarterfinals for the third straight season after rallying to beat District 17-6A champion Cy-Fair, 3-2, in the area playoffs Thursday at the Merrell Center in Katy.
KATY—The Cardiac Coogs did it again.
For the second straight playoff game, Cinco Ranch rallied in dramatic, if not thrillingly brilliant, fashion, this time shocking District 17-6A champion Cy-Fair, 3-2 (23-25, 25-22, 24-26, 25-21, 17-15), in a Region III-6A area playoff nail-biter Thursday at the Merrell Center.
After coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the bi-district round Tuesday to stun a stacked and loaded George Ranch team, Cinco Ranch dug itself a 2-1 hole before storming back and ending the Bobcats' season in the area round for the third time in four years.
"When the pressure is on, we rise to the occasion," Cinco Ranch coach Danielle Wells said. "It's like we play better when the pressure is on, which is weird. We'd like to play well the whole time, but we're just fighting through adversity right now."
Cinco Ranch (20-17) moves on to play District 19-6A rival Katy in the regional quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Merrell Center.
The Cougars have only four seniors on their roster, and just two see significant playing time. Two freshmen and three sophomores are big-time contributors.
But for the second straight season, after finishing fourth in 19-6A, Cinco Ranch is in the regional quarters, and that's largely because of the leadership of returners Courtney O'Brien, Emily Presley, Catalina Martinez and Camryn Moon, and a deep, versatile lineup of hitters.
Down 2-1, Cinco Ranch changed things up. The Cougars started single-blocking in the back row, instead of double-blocking, and put three players in the back, with wings coming in to help defensively. They also changed to where they were hitting in the attack.
In the decisive fifth set, nine different Cougars recorded points. Five had at least two points.
"It's awesome," said O'Brien, who led Cinco Ranch with 19 kills and four aces. "It's wonderful to be able to rely on everyone to do everything. It's nice that we can rely on everyone to do their job."
The Cougar who put away one of the best games played this season was a sophomore reserve, Makenna Loo.
Loo took a perfect set from Martinez and delivered a hard shot cross-court toward the back right corner that ricocheted off Cy-Fair junior libero Emily Riley.
"We started aiming (shots) toward the corner of the court because it was wide open," Loo said. "I just went for it."
Sophomore Makenna Loo with the capper for @CincoVolleyball. Cougars take the fifth set 15-13 and the game 3-2 to advance to the regional quarters. Cy-Fair falls to Cinco Ranch for the third time in last four years. #txhsvb @KatyISDAthletic @CincoAthletics @CougarnationJpic.twitter.com/j0ggIu9otg — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Wells said she was proud of the youngster, and added the point was not just big for the moment, obviously, but for Loo's future.
"She's a competitor," Wells said. "She's always ready to go. She came off the bench and executed, and that's what we need. She did her job and did it well. She can look back at this game and know she can get it done, so it's good experience for her."
Three Cougars had 10 or more kills: O'Brien, and sophomores Emily Killam (10) and Shea Rainosek (10). Killam and Rainosek added four and three blocks, respectively. Martinez and Presley had seven kills each. Loo and Moon had five kills each.
The wealth of production was too much for Cy-Fair to eventually overcome, though senior Madison Hrncir played heroically, almost winning the game single-handily for the Bobcats in the fifth set.
Hrncir had a game-high 26 kills, seven coming in the fifth set. Her consistent power hitting and relentless defensive play were awe-inspiring.
It just wasn't enough.
"We're constantly reminding each other that this is our game," O'Brien said "We love playing volleyball. This is what we do every day of our lives, so it comes back to the simple things and playing volleyball and putting the ball away."
Freshman Gabby Martinez with the nice shot for @CincoVolleyball. Cy-Fair leads 10-8 in the fourth set. #txhsvbpic.twitter.com/2AxgpdaI1J — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Wells has a team that has been under pressure many times the last two seasons against elite competition.
The Cougars beat regional power Ridge Point and Cy-Fair last season before falling to eventual state champ Seven Lakes. George Ranch finished second in 20-6A this season and was 28-13 entering Tuesday's game against Cinco Ranch.
The Cougars know what they're capable of doing when stakes are high.
"We really stick together," Loo said. "We're all so young and we're not as progressed as everyone else, but we're really close and we fight for every single point. We lift each other up."
They know what it takes to win close, competitive games. They're coached to thrive in those situations.
Assistant coach Stephanie Thapar said she and Wells push players to "make it look like you're just starting, not like you're finishing" when campus athletic coordinator Chris Dudley is around toward the end of practices.
It's a mindset to make their last as strong, if not finer, than their first.
"Always push when it's the last rep. Always push when it's the last sprint," Wells said. "Finish as strong as you started. Right now is when we want to peak. The playoffs is where you've got to rise and shine."
She doesn't have to tell her players twice. They're shining.
THURSDAY'S VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFF RESULTS
CLASS 6A REGION II
The Woodlands 3, Cypress Ranch 0
Klein 3, Grand Oaks 1
CLASS 6A REGION III
Ridge Point 3, Memorial 1
Pearland Dawson 3, Kingwood 0:
Katy 3, Cypress Creek 1
Cinco Ranch 3, Cy-Fair 2
Deer Park 3, Pearland 2
Clear Springs 3, Atascocita 1
CLASS 5A REGION III:
Friendswood 3, Lamar Consolidated 0
CLASS 4A REGION III
Thursday: Huffman 3, Sealy 0
Thursday: Bridge City 3, El Campo 0
Thursday: Needville 3, Pleasanton 1
Cinco Ranch is off to a 2-0 start this season and has already surpassed its win total from 2019 and 2020, combined.
They're sick of losing. Absolutely tired of it.
One win, total, in 2019 and 2020 will create that sentiment within players competing for a program typically rich in tradition and success.
Words are one thing, however, but Cinco Ranch is going out and doing something about it, off to a 2-0 start after Saturday's 20-15 win over Aldine Davis at Legacy Stadium.
"We're tired of losing," junior quarterback Gavin Rutherford said. "We've been putting in the work, like 7-on-7, building that chemistry that started last year. We just keep building. This year, everybody's bought into the same goal, and that's to win every game we can, compete every play, every second of the game. Win."
.@cincofb junior QB @GavinRutherfo12 discusses the Cougars’ 20-15 win over Aldine Davis tonight and the 2-0 start t… https://t.co/Rg2MAChisO — VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston)
The most telling sign things are different in Cougar Country? Cinco Ranch won a game because of strong defense and despite a subpar showing from a prolific passing attack. A year ago, a bad passing game would have been cause for defeat, as the defense was far from reliable.
But this isn't last year.
The Cougars held the Falcons to only 4.3 yards per play. On Davis' final drive, starting with good field position on its own 42-yard line and trailing by five points with less than three minutes left, the Cougars forced a turnover on downs on four consecutive incompletions.
Whether it was senior linemen Zach Dycus and Bowen Cheng up front, or senior linebacker Kasey Murry and a physical secondary highlighted by senior Fordham Parks and sophomore Taytum Johnson, the defense relentlessly swarmed the ball and held an opponent to 15 or fewer points for the second consecutive game.
"They are hungry for running to the ball," said acting head coach Curt Faigle, who led the Cougars in place of head coach Chris Dudley, who was absent for undisclosed reasons. "There's a tightness to them. We had a great opponent tonight, and our offense didn't have the best night. That had everything to do with our opponent. But we still found a way to eek it out."
Last season, if Rutherford and junior receivers Noah Abboud and Seth Salverino weren't lighting up the scoreboard, Cinco Ranch was in for a long night.
Times have changed.
Rutherford completed 14 of 26 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and the offense had only 196 total yards, but the defense stepped up and kept the Falcons at bay.
.@cincofb senior DB @Fordham_Parks with the crushing tackle for a loss. #txhsfb @CincoAthletics https://t.co/Cued9S3guP — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
"We've got a lot of guys who are sick of losing," Murry said. "All kinds of guys stepping up who want to win. It's been a drought two years in a row. We're just sick of losing."
The Cougars also got some semblance of production from the run game, which compiled 26 yards on 20 carries. It's not much, but the positive yards were timely, as Cinco Ranch used junior Sam McKnight, who has admirable instincts and does well protecting the ball, to sustain drives, keep the chains moving and drain clock whenever the passing game wasn't happening.
McKnight, who grinded out 17 yards on 15 carries and caught five passes for 64 yards, rushed for two touchdowns, and has three this season. That already matches the Cougars' entire number of rushing touchdowns last season.
"It's so good," Rutherford said of the run game, practically letting out a sigh of relief. "We know that if we can establish the run, the passing game is through the roof. I think a lot of credit goes to the offensive line. They've been putting in the work. In the weight room, outside of the weight room. It's a brotherhood. That's what I love to see. It rubs off on everyone else. We pick each other up and lift each other up."
Cinco Ranch has a pair of nice wins to its name. The Cougars beat a 2020 district champion in College Park handily, 35-14, in Week 1. Rutherford threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Then Cinco Ranch earned a tough win against an athletic Davis team.
"We feel like we deserve this," Murry said. "We've put the work in all offseason, and we deserve to win."
Aldine Davis’ run game has gotten nothing going against @KaseyMurry33 and that @cincofb front seven. #txhsfb https://t.co/sa10FRa8Kc — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
>> MURRY'S BACK: Murry suffered a torn ACL injury around this time last year that kept him out of the 2020 season. He said he's taking it day by day and is not yet 100 percent healthy but getting there. Murry had 16 total tackles and a sack in Week 1 and 12 total tackles against Davis. "It's rare to get a guy like Kasey, as an underclassman, to be the voice, the leader, the alpha," Faigle said. "He was that before his injury, and he still had captain status all last year, even going through the injury. So, to have him healthy is invaluable."
>> NOT EXACTLY: Faigle, who has been coaching at Cinco Ranch since 2013, said 2020 did not feel like the one-win season that it was. There was a lot to build upon. "There was a lot of adversity," Faigle said. "We felt like we had a great plan, we were in a lot of the games. As coaches, we knew we were playing a lot of young guys. Everybody comes back, and we're excited. There's a lot of guys that have seen a lot of live bullets and had some skins on the walls. I think it just feels different knowing that everybody's back, and that bunch of young kids we had last year are now veterans, and the right types of veterans."
>> CROSBY STARS: Senior receiver Dylan Crosby had a great game for the Cougars, catching four balls for 78 yards and a touchdown.