GARLAND — For Neches High School senior Makenzie Hudson, the moment she waited her entire volleyball career arrived.
Hudson, and the rest of the Lady Tigers can call themselves state champions.
“It's such an honor,” said Hudson, the Neches outside hitter who had more digs than anyone else in Thursday's Conference 1A state championship at Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
“We haven't had volleyball long,” Hudson continued, “and we have worked our way from the bottom to the top. I am proud of all the girls (on this team).”
Hudson finished with 22 of Neches' 67 digs, which was 15 more than Water Valley, as the Lady Tigers defeated the LadyCats by scores of 26-24, 25-19, 26-24.
Water Valley head coach Brenda Greebon complimented Neches (41-4) on its performance.
“They played the floor well against us,” Greebon said. “We worked on trying to find their weak spots, and we tried to get points. But, they ran such a great offense, and No. 11 is such a great hitter. We couldn't shut her down.”
That No. 11 is super sophomore Kacie Kimbrough, who was named championship match most valuable player. Kimbrough produced a double-double with 19 kills, 11 digs and a .265 hitting percentage — a high number for a state title match.
“I am proud of this honor,” said the humble Kimbrough. “But, there are a lot of volleyball players who played well.”
Kimbrough said Water Valley (31-12) was a challenging opponent, and it was tough to get around the LadyCats' block — which sometimes featured double and triple combinations. The LadyCats also swung hard.
Every time Neches needed a big point, whether with a well-placed tip or thunderous kill, it was up to Lexi Rogers.
During the match, Rogers said she was assigned watch Water Valley outside hitter Kenzie Jordan's every move. Jordan, who is being courted by NCAA Division II schools and junior colleges in West Texas, hit .174. But, Rogers had 10 kills and two ace blocks, both on Jordan.
Teams were knotted at 24-all in the opening set when Emily Hill had a key block assist, and then Kimbrough delivered a hammering kill.
The Lady Tigers won with more breathing room in the second set, and Neches finished off Water Valley with three straight tips from Kourtney Mannix, Kimbrough and Rogers.
Like in the first set, Neches and Water Valley was deadlocked at 24-all in the third. Kimbrough powered through with a kill on the next point, and then Water Valley committed a hitting error to give the Lady Tigers the match.
Emily Hill dished off 33 assists to go with nine digs, and a team-best three ace serves. Libero Nayeli Quistian added eight digs. Mannix had four kills and Raegan Hill three as the Lady Tigers outhit Water Valley, .189-.117.
CROWD SUPPORT PULLOUT
Neches coach Morgan Roberson, a former Callisburg athlete who watched her alma mater advance to Saturday's Conference 3A championship versus Boyd, said she appreciated Neches fans driving to the Metroplex to watch them win the gold.
“Everyone has been so incredibly supportive,” said Roberson, as Neches learned to love volleyball like basketball since the sport was added back in 2012, “the fans and the parents. And to go and do what we accomplished, we had a theme of rise up this year. We rose to the occasion.”
Neches run toward greatness began during the 2017 season when the Lady Tigers defeated Cayuga in a district match. The Lady Tigers qualified for the 2A postseason, but bowed out early.
Neches dropped to 1A this year, and turned into the most dominant force in this classification. The Lady Tigers' lone losses this year were to three 4A schools, and Scurry-Rosser (3A) in a warm-up match.
Attendance for the state championship match was 811.