GARLAND – Coach Morgan Roberson and her decorated Lady Tigers team have stayed humble on their journey to another state finals appearance. Even though, their play on the court has given them plenty of room to brag.
For the second consecutive year, the Neches Lady Tigers volleyball team is headed back to the state finals following their three-set sweep of the Blum Lady Bobcats Wednesday afternoon – 25-10, 25-13, 25-13.
“They hate to lose,” Roberson said. “Losing a set wouldn't settle well with us. They're competitors.”
A 44-16 kill advantage, .299 percent hit percentage, 10 aces and 58 digs are just a few factors that'll land a team back in the championship game. It also doesn't hurt to have defending tournament MVP Kacie Kimbrough nail home 18 kills on the afternoon.
“She's a big asset,” Roberson said. “But we had three girls with double-digit kills. Our ability to spread the ball around is what makes us a threat.”
The Lady Tigers opened a 6-1 advantage against Blum in the first set of the semifinals. A pair of kills from Lexi Rogers highlighted the Lady Tigers' dominate opening stretch.
A back-and-forth exchange began to unravel before an attack error on Blum's Emma Jones put Neches up 9-5. Four powerful kills from Kimbrough helped catapult Neches to a 14-6 lead – forcing the Lady Bobcats to burn their first timeout.
The pause in play did little to seize momentum as Raegan Hill, alongside a pair of Kimbrough kills, shot Neches out to another 3-0 run.
Blum shot back with a slight run of their own, but three attacking errors on the part of Blum helped the Lady Tigers close out the first set 25-10.
The second set appeared to be a bit more competitive at the top of the set. Neches held a 3-2 advantage before a failed block attempt from Blum on Lexi Rogers extended Neches' lead to 4-2. An exchange of kills moved the match to 6-4, Neches, before four straight attacking errors gave the Lady Tigers a 10-4 lead.
Blum didn't waiver. And their veteran presence showed as they shot off a 5-1 run – forcing Neches to use their first timeout of the game.
The pause in play seemingly snatched momentum away from Blum. A second-effort kill shot from Kimbrough out of the break was too hot for Blum and sparked a brief 5-0 run from the Lady Tigers.
A service error from Kimbrough ended its run. However, similar to the first set, errors on the part of Blum did them in down the stretch and allowed Neches to take a commanding 2-0 set lead.
The luring taste of victory for Neches and the dreadful smell of defeat for Blum was on display in the third set. Neches blasted off to a 9-0 lead behind a pair of kills from Raegan Hill and Lexi Roge, along with three straight service aces from Kimbrough.
An attack error from Kimbrough momentarily brought a halt to Neches' opening run. From there, errors on both sides set the score at 14-4. Kourtney Mannix moved the lead to 15-4. A pair of Blum attack errors tacked on two more points to Neches' lead.
The final stretch became the Kacie Kimbrough show.
Leading 18-7, Kimbrough spiked home her 14th kill of the evening as it skinned the backline of the court. Another powerful swing from Kimbrough on the following play caused the opposing Blum player to ricochet the ball out of bounds.
A Blum timeout barely extinguished Kimbrough's hot streak. She hammered in another kill shot right between Blum's two middle blockers.
Up 21-7, he onslaught continued. A diving save from Raegan Hill kept the play alive before Kimbrough powered home another kill off the net for her 17th kill.
Blum was able to rally off a 4-0 run behind three Emma Rodriguez kills, but the hole proved to be too deep.
“I didn't want to give Blum a chance to regroup,” Roberson said. “I wanted our girls to figure out a way to mentally come back to the game. They got a little sleepy because we were winning. I wanted them to work it out themselves so we can use that [in the finals] as an advantage.”
A final kill shot from Raegan Hill sent the Lady Tigers to their second straight title appearance.
The Lady Tigers will battle Round-Top Carmine in the 1A championship game at 3 p.m. at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.