In high school sports, second chances at glory don’t often present themselves.
Now that they’ve earned theirs, the Ridge Point Lady Panthers are focused on completing the mission.
“All I could think of is that we’re not finished with our season. We still need to return to state and finish our business,” senior setter Reagan Rutherford said Monday.
After falling to Flower Mound in the 2018 state-title match, Ridge Point is headed back to the UIL state volleyball tournament at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. The Lady Panthers (46-4) face Plano West (39-5) in the Class 6A state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner facing Trophy Club Nelson (48-2) or Schertz Clemens (44-4) for the championship at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“Knowing that not a lot of people get a second chance – but we do – means a lot to us,” senior middle blocker Claire Jeter said. “So we know we need to take it and run with it.”
Ridge Point’s experienced roster boasts 12 upperclassmen, including nine seniors who have paved the way for a potentially historic culmination of a season to remember.
Three of the seniors recently were named to Under Armour Girls High School All-America teams by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Rutherford was a first-team selection, Jeter made the second team and defensive specialist Nia McCardell was a third-team pick.
“The leadership (of the seniors) has been incredible to watch. They’re hungry for the win they lost last year, and they want to get that redemption,” first-year head coach Lauryn Bailey said. “Not only are they talented, but they’re fun. We just have a good time together.”
Many of the Lady Panthers’ seniors have been playing together since junior high. Over the last four seasons, the group has helped rack up 150 wins, brought home three consecutive District 20-6A championships and punched a postseason ticket every year.
But one thing has been calling their name from the moment 2018 ended.
“We know what we lost last year,” Rutherford said. “Coming back this year, we just wanted it even more. We’re just doing it and want it for each other.”
During its run to the state tournament, Ridge Point has taken down three district champions in Cinco Ranch, Pearland Dawson and Cy-Fair. And much like their regular season, the Lady Panthers have made it look like a breeze. Since losing their opening set of the playoffs to Katy Tompkins, they have reeled off 15 consecutive set wins.
But Bailey insists it hasn’t been as easy as the box scores would indicate. She knows the team has had a target on its back all year.
“We already know everybody’s going to come in and give us their best shot,” Bailey said.
Despite its run to the title match last season, there was some sentiment that the graduation of All-American Skylar Fields – now a freshman at the University of Texas – would cripple Ridge Point’s hopes for a return trip to Garland.
Not so fast.
“Everyone felt like she was the whole team,” Rutherford said. “I feel like we’ve come back and proved them wrong so far. We’re good enough to win state with this team.”
Added McCardell: “It’s one player, and it’s a big loss. But having everyone else come together to fill that role has been awesome.”
The road to Garland hasn’t come without its share of bumps, however. Rutherford, Jeter and Bailey all pointed to mid-season defeats at the hands of Klein and Clear Brook as wakeup calls.
McCardell, meanwhile, targeted the Lady Panthers’ regional semifinal victory over Pearland Dawson as a seminal moment for more reasons than one.
“Early on in the season, we had some losses we probably shouldn’t have, so that made us realize what we want and how hard we need to work,” Jeter said.
McCardell echoed the sentiment.
“We had a lot of people doubting us. We came out strong and swept (Dawson), so I feel like that gave us a lot more motivation and energy,” she said.
The time is now for the Lady Panthers to see the fruits of that motivation and those grueling hours in the gym. As one pack they press ahead, with a single goal in mind — finish the job.
“There wasn’t a team that handed it to us. They fought,” Bailey said. “But these girls want to run through anybody who gets in their way.”