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Katy players and coaches huddle as a team after their 3-1 Region III-Class 6A quarterfinal win over district rival Cinco Ranch on Tuesday at the Merrell Center.
KATY—It's difficult to beat any team three times in one season. It's even tougher when that team is a district rival.
But Katy made it look relatively easy in dismissing Cinco Ranch, 3-1 (25-19, 25-12, 23-25, 25-17), in their Region III-Class 6A quarterfinal Tuesday evening at the Merrell Center, earning a second straight trip to the regional tournament this weekend.
"This game was extra special for us since Cinco is in our district," said senior Chandler Lee, who led Katy with 18 kills and added two blocks. "We knew we'd have to work hard. It's an important win because now we're the only Katy ISD team in the playoffs, and so we know we're only going to have to work extra hard."
Katy is 30-16 and one win away from a return to the regional final. The Tigers defeated Cinco Ranch 3-2 and 3-0, respectively, in district play. On Tuesday, Katy surrendered a lone set in which errors plagued it, but otherwise played a dominant game.
The Cougars ended their season 20-18 overall but had an impressive postseason. Cinco Ranch, the fourth-place team out of District 19-6A, defeated a stacked and loaded George Ranch and District 17-6A champion Cy-Fair to set up a third and more meaningful meeting with Katy.
"They're a comeback team," Katy coach Karen Paxton said of Cinco Ranch, which overcame a 2-0 deficit against George Ranch and 2-1 against Cy-Fair. "They battle. They're young, but very talented, very skilled, high volleyball IQ, well-coached. I feel like we have to play our best anytime we play them, and not give away points. We did that a little bit in set 3, and we had to bounce back and minimize errors. I felt we carried over some of that into game four."
.@katyvball21 is off to the regional semifinals. Tigers take the fourth set 25-17 to beat Cinco Ranch 3-1. Tigers are 30-16. #txhsvb @KatyISDAthletic @khs_livepic.twitter.com/FRhkmSZJlI — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
The Tigers had a strong start as junior Maddy Chaapel was big in the first set, recording six of her 12 kills.
"She stepped up and was really aggressive," Paxton said. "She mixed up shots. She's super athletic and she really executed a large portion of our game plan tonight on the outside."
Chaapel, who has had a great postseason for the second straight year, was smart and effective with ball placement.
"I think this was a game where we saw how important scouting really is, and knowing what's going to be open and when it will be open," Chaapel said. "We had that in our minds the whole game. We just knew."
Lee was the difference-maker for Katy in the second set with five kills. At one point, she scored four consecutive points for the Tigers.
"We found good spots open on the court," Lee said. "We had strong placement over power. It was about hitting line (hitting the ball down the line of a corner of a zone), really. I felt like that was Cinco's weakest area. We were trying to find open spots, and that's what we were doing. Hitting line and hitting to where they weren't."
But the Cougars, who generally play well in the third sets of games, held off a sweep. Cinco Ranch led 15-9 in the third set, watched Katy come all the way back to tie it at 22, and then held on for the win with some crucial kills by junior Courtney O'Brien and sophomore Makenna Loo late.
Katy, however, responded admirably, winning the fourth set and leading from start to finish. Aside from Lee and Chaapel, senior Jordan Gamble had 11 kills with three blocks. Senior Maddie Waak had eight kills, 35 assists and 23 digs. Senior Izzy Denton had two aces, 25 digs and five assists.
Katy is headed back to the regional tournament for the second year in a row.Dennis Silva II | VYPE Media
"We know we can do this," Chaapel said. "We can go to state. We have the talent, and we have the mentality that we're going to go far."
Paxton said the expectation all along this season has been to get back to the regional tournament. She credits not only the core of Waak, Gamble, Lee, Chaapel and Denton, but also younger players who have assumed leadership roles "behind the scenes" and a strong supporting cast program-wide.
"Our kids have a lot of heart," Paxton said. "There are a lot of great players that have come before them that these girls want to carry on that tradition. We had a saying tonight that was 'go all out.' We have nothing to lose at this point. We're just playing great volleyball and we love what we're doing."
After finishing as a Region III-6A finalist last season, Katy started its playoff run this year with a dominant sweep of Fort Bend Travis on Monday evening at the Merrell Center.
KATY—This is the time of the year Katy High has been longing for ever since last year's run to the regional finals.
The Tigers were hungry all offseason, preseason, and regular season to get back to the playoffs. They had raised the program's bar last year by going the furthest the program had been since 1993. Eager to prove it was not an aberration, they went through the motions of the regular season, sometimes methodically and most times exceptionally, with a much bigger picture in mind.
"We are a completely different team this year, just because we have so many new people," senior libero Izzy Denton said. "It took a while for us to mesh and have that cohesiveness as a team, versus last year when we were together every single day, and maybe more motivation and drive because of COVID.
"This year, we had to go back to the basics and re-learn how to play with each other. Like any team, we've had our rocky moments, but we've gotten through those well and we're leaning on each other a lot more."
In its Region III Class 6A bi-district playoff Monday evening against Fort Bend Travis, Katy played like it. The Tigers swept Travis 25-12, 25-21, 25-16 to advance to the area playoffs against Cy-Creek later this week.
Katy improved to 28-16 overall with the win.
.@MaddieWaak seals it. @katyvball21 takes the third set 25-16 and the game 3-0. Advances to play Bellaire or Cy-Cre… https://t.co/CQdN8TQV80 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
"It feels good," senior setter Maddie Waak said. "We lost some people last year, but we gained some new people as well. I think we can go just as far as we did last year."
The Tigers are loaded.
Katy has four NCAA Division I verbal commits for volleyball in Waak (LSU), Denton (Southeastern Louisiana), Chandler Lee (New Orleans) and Jordan Gamble (Northwestern State); five, if you include Kailey Wyckoff, who is going to Stephen F. Austin for softball.
Asked if there might be pressure to squeeze every ounce of potential out of such significant talent, Katy coach Karen Paxton agreed, adding it comes with a necessary balance.
"I think there's pressure with everything," Paxton said. "You have to find a balance in intensity. If it's too intense, the pressure can get to you, and if it's not intense enough, then we have to find ways to turn it on. Having the right personnel and right mindset is really key for our coaching staff right now. It's OK to take risks and make mistakes, but as far as the level being elevated, it's time."
The Tigers had a lot of good go their way against Travis. Some key takeaways:
>> Katy showed off its wealth of firepower. Gamble had 12 kills, two blocks and an ace. Lee had 11 kills. Waak and junior Maddy Chaapel had six kills each. Waak expertly executed the offense with 25 assists and had 13 digs and a block as well. "Whenever you have a group that sees success like we did last year, and we carry that over, the intensity level definitely picks up toward the end," Paxton said. "We have a lot of really strong leaders and getting everyone to buy-in at this point is huge for success."
>> Perhaps Katy's biggest star was Denton, who had seven aces along with her usual dominant play on the back row (18 digs). "I have a very consistent routine that's pretty much superstition at this point," Denton said of her serving. "I notice every time I mess up my routine, I end up missing my serve. That could be more of a mental thing than anything, though." Denton bounces the ball three times, spins it, and then tosses it up for a swing. "Izzy is a solid server for us and has come in and changed momentum in several matches for us this year," Paxton said. "Not only on defense does she keep us in rallies, but she turns things around with serving. She showed tonight what she's capable of."
>> The turning point of the game came in the second set. Trailing 18-12, Katy fought back behind three kills from Gamble to tie it at 18-all. That's when Chaapel flew toward a ball on Katy's side of the court headed out of bounds, saved it back into play by punching it back in with one arm, and stopped short of almost crashing into press row on the sideline. The Tigers eventually got the point on the rally for a 19-18 lead. They went on to win, 25-21. "I realized once I turned around and the ball wasn't on our side of the court anymore, I was like, 'Oh, shoot. We can still get this point,'" Chaapel said. "I just tried to do my part and got to the ball. I almost killed myself getting to it."
Waak said "everybody played their part." And that's what Katy will need, she said, if it wants to meet its great expectations.
"We all have to be in it together," Waak said. "If we're not in it together, we're not going to go far. The family aspect is what pushed us as far as we went last year. It's been good this year. We can get better, like anyone, but it'll only improve as the season keeps getting better for us."
Paxton is encouraged by what's she seen.
"We're really starting to put things together," she said. "I feel like we turned a corner going into the playoffs, and it's kind of like, OK, here we go."