For the second straight round in the Class A volleyball playoffs, Hico found itself trailing early. And for the second straight round, it didn't matter.
The Lady Tigers didn't need nearly as dramatic a comeback Tuesday night as they did in last Friday's five-set area round marathon against Collinsville. In Tuesday's Region II quarterfinals they dropped just the first set, not the first two, then turned it on and left De Leon behind.
"It went great; we just had to get our jitters out early and once we did that and got rolling, our girls were fired up and screaming and yelling with every point and (De Leon) couldn't hang with it," said Smalley, Hico's second-year head coach. "We just gradually got a lead and then hammered away."
Now, the Lady Tigers have hammered their way all the way to the school's first regional tournament appearance in the sport after defeating De Leon 22-25, 25-10, 25-17, 25-20 at Henderson Junior High in Stephenville.
Hico outscored De Leon 75-47 over the last three sets.
"Our back row passing struggled in the first game, and that was frustrating because even though we have great front row hitters, I really feel like our back row girls are who got us this far," Smalley said. "Caitlin Lee, Sierra Kash, our libero bailey barrios, Summer Lehmen; all those girls were just outstanding starting in the second set. Once they got hot, the whole team took off."
And from the middle, Stacey Underwood, Amenda Knotts and Brionna Stephens started to take over.
"We got some big blocks on their good outside hitter and that really helped us," Smalley said.
But the real tide turner came from one of the team's smallest players.
"Blake Wood is five-foot-nothing, and she goes up and blocks their outside hitter who is 5-8 or 5-9, and everyone just went crazy," Smalley exclaimed. "That was a real momentum turner in the second set. Anytime a small girl goes up and blocks a big girl, especially in a huge match, it lifts you up and gets you excited. We really fed off that play."
Wood also quarterbacked the offensive attack from her setter position.
"I was so proud of Blake because she struggled early and was called several times for two touches, which is called so much more in the playoffs," Smalley explained. "A lot of players would have been frustrated and not had a good night, but Blake fought through it and was awesome for us."
And when defense was needed, Barrios took charge.
"All my back row players played really well in the last three sets, especially Bailey," the coach said. "She's our libero because that's what she does - she gets to balls that a lot of times would have scored."
Next up for the Lady Tigers is a greater challenge in defending regional champ Cayuga, who they face in the regional semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at Weatherford High School. The winner gets Lindsay or Chilton at 2 p.m. Saturday - also at Weatherford - with a state tournament berth on the line.
"They went to state last year and didn't lose anybody, so they're definitely tough," said Smalley. "But it's not just Hico who has to go through Cayuga; they have to go through us, too."