SPRING BRANCH — In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, New Braunfels’ string of consecutive wins against Smithson Valley reached 16 Friday night in Spring Branch.
The Lady Unicorns (24-16, 4-3) dropped the first two sets by scores of 25-21 and 26-24 before falling behind 12-5 in the third game during what looked to be an eventual sweep for the Lady Rangers. However, New Braunfels used its own 12-5 run to draw even and eventually fought its way to a pivotal 25-20 win.
Head coach Heather Sledge’s team, which received huge contributions from outside hitter Morgan Baese all evening, then chiseled out a 25-18 victory in the fourth set before capping off a truly remarkable comeback by claiming the decisive fifth game, 15-12.
“I am just so proud of them,” New Braunfels head coach Heather Sledge said. “They never got rattled and it was a big win.
By the time the Lady Unicorns reached the fifth set, Smithson Valley (21-15, 4-3) appeared a bit shaken by the rally. New Braunfels rattled off the first seven points of the game and later held a 13-6 edge before the Lady Rangers’ Jada West and Kate Myles spurred a quick surge.
Smithson Valley fended off three straight match points en route to pulling within 14-12, but a huge block from Madison Glassco put the finishing touches on a memorable triumph for the Lady Unicorns.
“The girls refused to quit,” Sledge said. “It was a total team effort.”
Smithson Valley built an early 10-6 edge in the first set, but New Braunfels rallied to grab a 12-11 lead following a block from Cypress Guenther, a strong serve by Edie Welch and an emphatic spike from Glassco. The Lady Rangers steadied themselves behind consecutive hits from Myles and Bekah Williams, but New Braunfels fired right back with kills courtesy of Guenther and Baese that knotted the score at 19 apiece.
The Lady Rangers responded by capping the opening game with a 5-1 run. Ortiz and Williams came up clutch again with a block and a kill, respectively, and a pair of New Braunfels errors made it 24-21 before Austin Burrell tallied a set-clinching block at center of the net.
Smithson Valley looked to be on the verge of taking a two-set lead several minutes later after going up 19-14 in the second game following well-placed hits from Jade Bernal and Burrell.
However, the Lady Unicorns fought back with an instant 6-0 run that included a setter dump from Ella Brunson, a kill by Glassco, a block from Rian Millership and a one-handed dive by Welch that led to a Lady Ranger miscue.
But despite the turn of events, head coach Courtney Patton’s team kept its resolve. Smithson Valley fought off a set point and took advantage of a pair of Lady Unicorn errors to grab a 25-24 lead as the crowd began to roar.
Moehrig then lifted a tip shot over the net to seal a 26-24 triumph and bring the Lady Rangers a single set away from snapping their seven-year drought against New Braunfels.
Smithson Valley moved even closer to victory in the third game after seizing leads of 12-5 and 15-9, but the Lady Unicorns refused to go away quietly. Baese led the charge with a few timely hits, and New Braunfels eventually tied the score at 17-all before breaking through for a 20-19 edge.
Guenther added a push shot moments later to give her team a 23-19 lead, and a pair of errors by Smithson Valley allowed the Lady Unicorns to remain alive in the District 26-6A battle.
Reinvigorated by the late rally, New Braunfels kept its rhythm flowing while taking a 14-10 edge in set No. 4. Guenther and Baese continued to provide huge plays along the front row, and Millership added a key hit to extend her team’s advantage to 18-12.
Ullrich, Baese and Guenther kept the pressure on the Lady Rangers down the stretch and successfully subdued Smithson Valley’s attack. Glassco ultimately forced a winner-take-all fifth set by slamming down another kill.
In the end, the Lady Unicorns were simply too powerful to stop once they got on a roll.
“They found rhythm and connected with each other,” Sledge said. “Our setters did a good job of moving our offense around and it worked.”