LLANO — With Ingram Tom Moore two points away from advancing to the area round, coach Tony Vela sprinted onto the court during a timeout, dishing high fives to each of his players.
“Let’s go,” he hollered.
Vela showed that same level of intensity throughout Monday’s bi-district match, even drawing a yellow card for protesting a missed Gateway double touch. He could hardly speak after Monday’s match he was so hoarse. His Lady Warriors fed off that passion, screaming any time they scored a point. They’ve accomplished a lot this season: Earning a top 10 state ranking, capturing the school’s first volleyball district since 1991. But they still had to clear one more hurdle: Nobody on Ingram’s roster had won a postseason game.
That changed Monday night in Llano. Gateway challenged Ingram in the first two sets, but couldn’t match the Lady Warriors’ intensity in the final two sets. The Lady Warriors rolled to a 25-20, 23-25, 25-13, 25-13 victory, showing in the final two sets why they have a chance to make a deep run in the Class 3A playoffs. They will await the winner of Hallettsville and Stockdale in the area round.
“Once we were able to settle down, you saw it: We were able to dominate the final two sets and do what we want to do,” Vela said. “When the postseason comes and you have a young group, the moment can sometimes be too big too early. Once we got them settled down, I knew we were going to be able to control the match.”
Junior Anna Crittenden led Ingram with 16 kills, nine assists and 12 digs. Her fellow team captain, Karlie Bonam, registered 10 kills, six blocks and six digs; junior setter Makenna Gelsone supplied 30 assists and six kills. And in her playoff debut, freshman Emmah Schmidt delivered 10 kills and eight digs.
“Emma played very well,” said Crittenden, flashing a smile toward Schmidt. “None of us played this well in our first playoff game.”
“Aw, thank you,” Schmidt beamed.
Crittenden and Schmidt’s postgame interaction was genuine. The Lady Warriors really do love each other; it’s clear whenever they play together. Their camaraderie has propelled them to a 34-6 record, and it helped them overcome some early playoff jitters. For two sets, It looked like they were danger. They trailed Gateway for most of the first set before they scored the set’s final four points to escape with a win (Macie Neutze sealed the match with an ace). They fell behind 12-5 in set No. 2, and couldn’t quite rally from that the deficit.
During the huddle before the third set, Vela urged his players to tune out the outside distractions. They were the better team; they just had to do a better job of passing in the final two sets.
“We haven’t played anywhere near our potential,” Vela told his players in the huddle. “Really, we should be up 2-0.”
They played closer to their potential in the final two sets, and Gateway didn’t have any answers. Schmidt began the third set with a kill down the right line. Bonam followed with another kill. Schmidt rose above the net to block a Gateway attack. Bonam delivered another block. All of a sudden, the Lady Warriors were in control with a 4-0 lead.
The third set quickly turned into a showcase of Ingram’s best celebrations. After serving an ace to extend Ingram’s lead to 16-7, Crittenden jumped twice and flexed both arms. Ingram’s reserves, meanwhile, jumped out of their seats to celebrate every Ingram point.
During the fourth set, the Gators began showing visible signs of fatigue, and the Lady Warriors capitalized. Gelsone hammered a kill in front of the let to give Ingram a 13-9. Four points later, Bonam slammed a kill past Gateway’s backline to stretch the advantage to 16-10. That was the knockout punch; the rest of match felt like a mere formality. The Lady Warriors are hoping to carry that energy into the next round.
“We love each other because everyone supports each other through anything,” Schmidt said. “We are always going to be there for each other. We just have to keep up our energy and keep playing the way we know how to play.”