By Randy Jennings / Contributor
McKINNEY — A memorable Highland Park volleyball season that longtime coach Michael Dearman called the “best in school history” came to a sudden end on Tuesday.
Led by an inspired performance from Kyndal Stowers, Denton Guyer defeated the Lady Scots in four sets, 20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23, in a Class 6A Region I quarterfinal playoff match.
Stowers, an outside hitter verbally committed to Baylor, filled up the stat box with 22 kills, four aces, nine digs and two blocks. Fittingly, it was her kill on match point that set off a joyous Guyer celebration and spelled the end for HP’s hopes of its first volleyball state title.
“A really solid player can carry a team,” said Dearman, in reference to Stowers. “I thought we did a good job keeping play away from her early. But Guyer had other players step up, too. The bottom line, tonight they executed better than we did.”
The Lady Scots (42-3) fell a few points shy of their third regional tournament appearance in four years.
“Right now, it is hard to reflect, but 42 wins and three losses is a historic year,” Dearman said. “No doubt this was not one of our better matches, taking nothing away from Guyer. We had missed serves [10 compared to just two in the area-round win over Flower Mound] and mental lapses that were unusual for us.”
For the first six weeks of the season, the Wildcats (24-11) played without Stowers, who had undergone shoulder surgery in the spring. Based on the velocity of some of Stowers’ kills on Tuesday, the shoulder is healing quite nicely.
The start of the match was solid enough for HP, with Bella Ocampo’s kill finishing a five-point win in the opening set.
Stowers began to take over in the latter stages of the second set with a five-point serving run that included a pair of aces. Guyer’s Lauren Schneider started to find the range, too, and it was her roll shot that evened the match at a set apiece.
In the third set, HP closed a 21-17 deficit to 23-22, but Erika Gustafson’s rejection of a point-blank spike brought Guyer to set point and Stowers finished it with an unreturnable tip.
Highland Park built a 15-8 lead in the fourth set. But in a set when the teams combined for nine service errors, the Scots committed three in a row down the stretch and the lead disappeared. It was up to Stowers to connect on the final two points.
“Playing with pressure affects you in different ways,’’ Dearman said. “There are times when you try not to make mistakes and put too much pressure on yourself.”
The Lady Scots will bid farewell to nine seniors on the playoff roster including four who will sign with NCAA Division I programs on Wednesday — Sydney Breon (UCLA), Ceci Gooch (Michigan), Zoe Winford (Georgia Tech), and Nicole Mauser (California Baptist). But the future looks bright with 11 underclassmen on the roster potentially returning next year.