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Ridge Point players and coaches gather for a photo after winning the Region III-6A championship with a 3-1 win over Katy on Saturday, Nov. 13, in Huntsville.
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.
Ridge Point is two wins away from a third trip to state in four years after sweeping Tompkins, 3-0, in their Region III-6A quarterfinal Monday at the Merrell Center.
KATY—As talented as Ridge Point is, and the talent is indeed substantial, it was the Panthers' heart and depth that stole the show in a 3-0 sweep of Tompkins in their Region III-6A quarterfinal Monday evening at the Merrell Center.
After taking the first set, 25-20, the Panthers (36-10) quickly found themselves trailing 11-4 in the second. Errors and the outstanding play of Tompkins junior hitter Cindy Tchouangwa were the primary culprits.
But the Panthers never gave in. Never griped or hung their heads. Slowly, they started chipping away. A Sydney Jordan block and kill here. A Nina Moorer point there. An Arissa Smith block.
And leading the charge was a freshman, Kennedi Rogers. Rogers had three big points late in the second set, swinging exceptionally well from the left side, and Ridge Point rallied for the win, 26-24.
"Kennedi is the type where pressure doesn't really get to her," Panthers coach Lauryn Bailey said. "She takes all the experience and advice from the upperclassmen. We're at practice every day and all our upperclassmen are talking to her about what she needs to do and how to fix certain things. She's just soaking it all in. She's going to do great things for us."
It was Rogers' right-handed swing cross court that punctuated Ridge Point's win in the second set.
"I saw the line was open, and their blocking was shifting more toward across," said Rogers, who had six kills. "I just used whatever I had, really."
.@RP_Volleyball gets the sweep! Alexis Roberson takes care of the third set, 25-16. Panthers advance to the regional semis. #txhsvb @RP_PantherPride @RPHS_Pantherspic.twitter.com/DXMeuZk6xg — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
The second set win rang significant for Ridge Point.
"It was huge for us, as far as not letting our errors and what they were doing get in our heads," said senior Alexis Roberson, who had 10 kills and a block. "We had to focus on playing as a team and knowing we can come back, and we did."
From there, an elated Panthers team easily handled a deflated Falcons team.
Ridge Point jumped out to a 17-11 lead in the third set, behind more strong play from Rogers, Jordan, and defensive specialist Josie Condrey, and won, 25-16.
Some of the usual suspects filled up the stat sheet for Ridge Point. Aside from Roberson, Jordan had eight kills, an ace, and a block. Moorer had seven kills. Kayla Wilson had five kills. Smith had three kills and two blocks.
Sydney Jordan puts away the first set for @RP_Volleyball, 25-20. #txhsvb @RP_PantherPride @FBISDAthleticspic.twitter.com/Q5l6AOpo05 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
But lately, it's been the two freshmen that have stepped up in big moments. In Ridge Point's 3-1 area playoff win against Memorial on Thursday, it was Aaliyah Smith with a big block and kill. Against Tompkins, it was Rogers.
Interestingly, it was during Ridge Point's sweep of Tompkins in their first meeting Aug. 20 that Rogers—whom Bailey has used situationally this season, primarily as a hitting specialist— said she finally overcame all the nerves and jitters typical of a freshman playing on varsity.
"It boosted my confidence," said Rogers, who only played one set in that game but had kills on each of her two attacks. "All my teammates cheered for me. It was a relief, and it got me overwhelmed with happiness. I always want that feeling."
Bailey said depth can be a game-changer as a team goes deeper into the playoffs.
"You can come and scout us all you want, but I can throw new people in there at any time," she said. "Everybody's opportunity is going to come, and when it comes you've got to be ready. They are."
The Panthers executed well in all aspects of the game against a Tompkins team that had been dominant this season, winning 35 of 40 games entering Monday.
"We knew they had really good hitters and they were going to get their points. We just had to focus on us and make sure we got our 25 (points) before they got theirs," Roberson said. "Defensively, maybe not stuff-blocks, but at least getting touches on the ball were big. The back row flying around us, they did really well. It all came together to where we were able to slow them down enough."
And now Ridge Point is two wins away from a third trip to state in four years.
"These girls are tired," Bailey said. "It's been a long year, ever since last year and the COVID year and then coming back and going to tournaments again. If we've made it this far, we're going to keep going. They're not going to come in and just let you take a set from them.
"They'll fight, and when we decide to fight back, we pull it out in the end."