Two steps from State

The Lady Hawks are all smiles after sweeping Rusk in the Class 4A regional quarterfinals.

Lady Hawks sweep tough Rusk


LONGVIEW – In a clash of talented and determined volleyball squads Tuesday night, Pleasant Grove took every punch Rusk could throw and swept the 16-4A champions right out of the state championship tournament.

A 33-31, 27-25, 27-25 thriller in an energized Lobo Gym came as a sweet reward for Madeline Haak, Britton Anderson, Allison Michaels and Reagan Franks, four seniors who got to the third round of the playoffs the past three years, but never reached the fourth.

Madeline Haak sends a kill shot over the net Tuesday at Lobo Gym in Longview

That finally happens at 6 p.m. Friday at Poteet High School in Mesquite, where the Lady Hawks (28-12) will face Argyle (24-18), the runner-up out of District 9-4A. The winner of that will play at 1 p.m. Saturday for a berth in the state championship game next week.

Complete Bracket Here

“We’re focused on wanting it more than the other team. Keep that ball alive and off the floor. Keep communicating and go at it 100 percent.”

It was surprising, almost miraculous, that the Hawks put Rusk away in straight sets, something that had never happened to the Lady Eagles, who finished 31-10. Though the Hawks got off to a fast start, they never could put together a long run.

Rusk Captain Laney Birdwell, a six-foot senior, and Jamyah Anderson, a six-foot-two sophomore, put together 20 kill shots to keep the Eagles close.

Rusk, on the other hand, never could put together a run, either. Not only did PG’s four seniors come up with big plays, so too, did underclassmen such as Natalie Hall, Grace Pickleman, Madie Morris and Sydney Hopkins.

The Hawks consistently made plays and foiled the Eagles’ two big guns just enough to eke out three straight, two-point, overtime wins.

“We’re focused on wanting it more than the other team,” Haak said. “Keep that ball alive and off the floor. Keep communicating and go at it 100 percent.”

That is exactly what the Lady Hawks did, right up to the point where Michaels deftly set the ball over her head, high above the net, and smashed the ball inside the sideline for the final point of the night.

“I heard the play call, ‘three,’ and I knew it was coming to me,” Haak said. “The set was perfect and I just concentrated on my run-up and placing the shot into the hole in the defense.”
That’s precisely what she did.

Braxton Watkins leads cheers for the Lady Hawks .

Though the two sides, especially male athletes, loudly, but good-naturedly, ribbed each other and threw an occasional catcall the refs’ way, there was no questioning Haak’s killer.

As it ricocheted off the floor, the Rusk side was instantly quiet and quickly gone.

One reason Haak was in a position to drive in the final nail was Anderson, who led all hitters with 14 kills. In the second game, with Rusk one point from tying the match at one apiece, Anderson had a pair of slashing killers to spark a 5-1 run and 27-25 victory.

“There was just no way we were going to lose,” Anderson said.

Adams followed with a shot to a hole in the middle of the Eagle defense and Hale, who finished with nine kills and four blocks, skied to block a smash shot from Anderson right back into her face.It was that kind of night.

Franks had a busy night, keeping the ball alive all night in addition to a pair of timely kill shots. On a night where mistakes were few, magnifying the ones that occurred, Franks was in the middle of the grit that kept the Hawks’ dreams alive.

“When things don’t go right, you just have to remember that each play is what matters,” she said.
With two talented, well-coached teams going at it, the difference, said PG coach Amy Collvins, was leadership.

“These seniors wanted it. They kept everybody calm, even when we weren’t in a huddle,” she said. “The only reason you get this far in the playoffs is senior leadership. They were the difference.”

The first game was an instant classic. The Hawks broke out to an 8-4 lead and kept the margin at three-to-four points until a flurry of shots and defensive gems by Birdwell helped Rusk knot it at 16. It was tied again at 17, 18, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31.

Suddenly, a block at the net landed on the Rusk side, and an out-of-bounds service return gave PG a 33-31.

The second game was just as close. It was tied at 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24 and 25, before Hale and Adams got PG the 27-25 win.

The third game followed the same pattern. It was tied at 25 when sophomore Georgia Cobb tipped the ball into an opening in the defense. That was followed by Haak’s killer.

On a night when the opponent clearly had the size in the fight, PG seemed to have the more fight for its size.

“I’m a real believer in positivity,” said Haak, who plans to be a doctor. “If you are positive in your efforts, you’re going to get positive results.”

The Lady Hawks are headed to the regional tournament.
Bill Owney
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A veteran journalist and educator, Bill Owney is a 1980 graduate of the University of Florida. Writing awards include APME honors for investigative reporting, the Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Award for public service reporting and numerous awards for editorial, column and news writing. He served as publisher of the Atlanta Citizens Journal and Pittsburg Gazette when each paper won sweepstakes awards from the Texas Press and North and East Texas Press Associations. He spent 15 years as a public school teacher and is an adjunct professor of English at Texarkana College.