Against their biggest rival, a formidable foe seemingly forever, the Llano volleyball Jackets registered a knockout in three rounds, October 23, and earned their first playoff berth since 2009. No Jacket athletic team reached postseason all of 2011-12.
Llano blasted Burnet, 25-19, 25-19, and 25-23 to secure third place with a 6-4 record in 8-AAA. The Lady Dawgs finished two games behind their hosts.
“I believed the last two years we could advance,” explained head coach Shawn Sweeten, “but my optimism this year was hurt by a new, tough district.”
8-3A included Liberty Hill, which went 10-0, and Gatesville, 8-2. Llano handled Brownwood, Lampasas, and Burnet in the other six matches without losing a game.
“We were ready,” said co-captain Cierra Jordan, concerning the contest that terminated the Lady Dawgs’ season. A win by the Dawgs would have meant another meeting—the dreaded play-in confrontation—which attracts butterflies, not the kind at which you aim a Nikon. “We knew everything was on the line,” added Jordan.
With Amanda Morgan offering some conquering kills, Claire Williams picking up a couple of winners, and Jessica Wunderlich finding the Burnet floor with a dazzling left-handed shot, Llano offset a 6-0 run by the guests with an 8-4 surge to lead 19-15.
Angela Jackson won a duel at the net for a 24-19 advantage, and 25-19 was the final.
This one was give and take. Jordan, from out-of-bounds to the middle-of-the-other-hardwood, edged the Jackets’ whisker-thin control to 18-16. Williams produced a kill, and Wunder fashioned a tap for a 23-18 lead.
The middle-set final was a Game One zerox.
With maybe 5,000 points played by the Sweeten roster since mid-August, 25 stood in the way of a playoff invitation.
It would not come easy. Burnet led 20-17.
“This was scary, but the momentum was in our court,” the coach declared. Say what?? “I felt more fear of losing our intensity in the first two games than in this situation.”
Tell me more, please. “I could see the determination on the girls’ faces,” Sweeten continued. This satisfied the hard-to-satisfy leader that there was no reason to worry.
“I told the girls,” Jordan told reporters, “we have to do this! The playoffs are right here, three points and we catch up!”
They got the three, but Burnet rebounded to go in front 23-21. Alas, the Bulldog offense for the season was over.
Morgan had a kill, Redden a block that she has perfected better than airlines devising ways to raise money, and CJ tossed in a winner. It was match point.
Morgan, who was lining serves to the other side when she was at Bulverde-Bracken a year ago, did it once more for Llano. No one in visiting white interrupted its flight except a space of the floor easily shy of the baseline. Llano was back in the playoff business.
“There was so much emotion and crying at the end,” the relieved other captain, Jessica Wunderlich, stated. “We knew we could beat them, but that can always change.”
Wunderlich had 15 kills, and Cierra Jordan added a dozen. It was a magnificent finish to their time on the home hardwood in their four years of varsity volleyball. Morgan contributed 20 assists; Cheyenne Swenson, 16; and Christy Vassar had an outstanding 14 digs.
Jordan, who has been in more events than a decathlete, won’t need a GPS to find the postseason for the first time in any sport in her high school career.
Wunder: “We have so much heart on this team.”
Morgan: “We were shaking; it’s over, thank goodness.”
Sweeten: “They handled the nervousness very well; I lacked composure; I kept checking on the girls. They were ready; they knew what was at stake.”