For senior Shelby Epley and Cedar Park, late sets are all about passion. The Lady Timberwolves played with plenty of it when it counted most Tuesday night.
Cedar Park won the opening two sets, but was taken to a decisive fifth set at home against Rouse, but came away with a thrilling 3-2 (26-24, 25-22, 22-25, 22-25, 15-11) win to virtually move into a two-way tie atop the District 17-5A standings with the Lady Raiders.
“It shows what high level we can play at and basically what our expectation is for our team,” Epley said.
Rouse has one district game remaining and Cedar Park has two, but should the two finish the regular season with the same record, seeding would come down to the flip of a coin if both coaches agreed or a one-off game to determine the order.
Cedar Park combined for 10.5 total blocks, led by Olivia Meyer and Jaelyn Grimm with four each. Grimm and Abbi Lemmond each had 16 kills, while Kaitlin Davis chipped in with 11 kills and a team-best 51 assists. Ryan Kuharski and Kennedi Lemmond both had 12 digs for the Lady Timberwolves.
“It was nervous at first, and I think the excitement got to all of us,” Grimm said. “We were all mentally there and ready to play together as a team. We worked hard in this game and played our hearts out.”
Rouse was led by MacKenzie Huntley with 22 kills and Grayson Schirpik with 21. Junior setter Kara Erfurth finished with 51 assists. Schirpik and junior Reilly Heinrich each had 31 digs fort he Lady Raiders.
With both sides of guys filled with students, there was lots of energy in the first set. Neither team led by more than three points at any time before Cedar Park closed strong.
The two teams again traded the lead in the second set before the lady Timberwolves too an 18-16 lead midway through and never looked back.
Rouse got out to leads in the next two sets, but Cedar Park always closed the gap. But the Lady Raiders never let their rivals get over the hump used the momentum to tie the match at two sets apiece.
“Our mental aspect changed and we stopped using the shots we knew worked,” Epley said. “Our communication went down. It just came down to our will and our passion for the game.”
The Lady Raiders got up early in the final set, but Cedar Park rallied back to take a 10-7 lead after a couple of shots were close to being out. They took advantage of it and won five of the final nine points to win it all.
“At the end of the day, we weren’t disciplined at the end,” Rouse head coach Jacob Thompson said. “We missed some things defense-wise. It’s an eye opener and it reveals some things we’ve got to look at. Had we just given up in set three, it would’ve been different.”
Both teams have already punched their postseason tickets, but the regular season isn’t over just yet. Cedar Park travels to face Marble Falls Friday and Connally next Tuesday, while Rouse hosts Pflugerville Friday and finishes the regular season with a non-district game against Stony Point at home next Tuesday night.
The exact same thing happened in 2016 as the Lady Timberwolves beat the Lady Raiders in five sets in later part of the district schedule. The two teams would meet again in the regional final.
“This sets the bar pretty high,” Grimm said.