Before a partisan crowd at the Merrill Center in Katy, the Seven Lakes Spartans advanced to the Class 6A state finals for the second time in four years. They beat San Antonio Reagan 25-16, 25-16, 21-25, 24-26 and 15-12.
The first time the Spartans reached the finals back in 2017 they were led senior Dani Batenhorst and a gawky freshman… Ally Batenhorst.
Batenhorst is now a senior, a Nebraska-signee and possibly one of the best players in the country. She is set by her little sister Casey, making the Batenhorsts the First Family of Seven Lakes to say the least.
Did we mention, Ally Batenhorst set a UIL State Tournament record 36 kills in an instant classic?
Seven Lakes jumped out to a 2-0 set lead before Reagan came rattling back to force a fifth set.
"That was super intense," Ally Batenhorst said. "It was so competitive and we had to work for every point. We wanted it so badly and it was just our time.
"Going to state is so special," she said. "Going both times with my sisters, once as a freshman and to close out my senior season, it's just surreal."
Casey Batenhorst quarterbacked her team with pinpoint assists and some timely blocks.
"In the huddle before that first set, Ally and I said let's play our game and play with energy. It came down to execution and heart," Casey said.
During the middle of the season, Seven Lakes was forced to quarantine for three weeks due to a Covid 19 issue, which set the Spartans back.
"I just kept telling them that this was all going to be worth it and this was our story," coach Amy Cataline said. "Hopefully, we would have a happy ending. This is just part of our novel."
Another chapter in the novel was the fact that starter Peyton Sykes went out with a match-ending ankle injury and Cataline inserted junior Mia Blum, the daughter of former Major League Baseball player Geoff Blum. She made some big plays in a substitute role.
The Rattlers were led by Nya Anderson (Miami) and a stingy defense.
It was a night of volleyball quite like non other. The energy, the pressure, the passion could all be felt sitting in San Antonio's Northside Gymnasium as the Brandeis Broncos took on District opponent Reagan Rattlers.
The two had already matched up twice previously in the season for district play, but something felt different tonight. The two worked so hard for this moment to earn the berth to the 6A State Semi-Finals and both certainly wanted it. Coming into the night, Brandeis held a 2-0 record over Reagan, but both were hard fought matches. Tonight, the Rattlers looked to prevail, and they ultimately did!
Starting set one with a bang, the Broncos took a strong lead in the middle of the set ultimately getting to 25 first winning set one. Ending the set on some big blocks the Broncos were hopeful to go into set two fired up.
Not wanting a repeat of previous matches, the Rattlers came out explosive, taking a 3-0 run and then shortly after having a 12-8 lead over the Broncos. With Regan's #10 Julia Aleman taking big swings from the outside tonight, especially in set two, the Rattlers maintained a cushion. Brandeis began chipping away at the points as they were fighting back when a point was called off when two top players for the Broncos collided mid-point. Setter Carlee Pharris and hitter Jalyn Gibson went diving for a ball on defense and ultimately hit heads. Gibson seemed shaken up, but ultimately was cleared to continue playing. Tying the set up 12-12 the gym became electric again. Getting back to business, the Rattlers blocking was just big and solid tonight! With the help of tremendous defense and big blocks the Rattlers took them up 19-13. Chichi Ozigbo(#6) was quite a threat tonight against the Broncos. Her block and her attacking was spot on, propelling the Rattlers to a set 2 victory with a final score of 25-17. Here is just a glimpse into the type of rallies the two teams were able to have tonight!
Set 3 was on fire! The rallies, the digging, the sets, the swings- everything was being laid on the floor for both teams. Broncos Libero, Amy Dewalt was a beast on the back row, digging big swings from Nyah Anderson, Ozigbo and Aleman. She began to really tune into where the Rattlers were sending the ball and it really seemed like she was in the right spot most of the time. It appeared the Rattlers were working hard to play the tipping game, and the down the line shots from the outside- which they were very successful in. The whole set was a close one, even coming down to the wire. Ultimately, the Rattlers win 26-24 after two unforced errors by the Broncos.
The match was on the line now as Reagan was up 2-1 and had their eyes set on a win! They came out pumping in the final set. Taking a lead from the beginning, it was tough for the Broncos to really get in rhythm. A key all-around player for the Broncos tonight was #14 Emma Halstead. The sophomore played a big role tonight in the passing, hitting, digging, and blocking game. Besides the setter, Halstead probably had the most touches on the ball and did a good job of putting pressure on the Rattlers. Ultimately though, the chemistry was just there for Reagan as they won set 4 and the berth to UIL 6A State Semis with a final score of 25-21.
Senior Libero, Maddie Correa was all over the back row tonight giving it her all, just as her other teammates. We caught up with the very excited Libero as she told us just how excited and proud she is!
It's tough to watch such great volleyball teams knowing there can only be one winner, but we are so proud of these two District 28 opponents and the magnificent seasons they both have had. We look forward to cheering Reagan on in the Semi-Finals this upcoming week, and look forward to them bringing home a trophy!