READ MORE: Lovejoy captures 3A crown
By Walter Villa
SAN MARCOS, Texas – After winning its second straight state title and posting a 50-0 record, Lake Travis (Austin) answered all the questions this season -- except for a long one in Saturday night’s final post-match press conference.
The indecipherable query was asked of Lake Travis outside hitter Sierra Patrick, who said a couple things before stopping.
“Can you repeat the question?” Patrick said as her teammates and the assembled media roared with laughter. “I was going to try to say something, but …”
Patrick and her teammates need not say anything more.
Their play spoke volumes.
After losing their first set of the season Thursday night against Foster (Richmond), the Cavaliers got back to being routinely dominant on Saturday with their 49th sweep of the season, a 25-13, 25-16, 25-14 dismantling of Pearce (Richardson) in the Class 4A state final.
Lake Travis, No. 2 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national poll, was led by Amy Neal, who earned state finals MVP honors for the second straight season.
Neal had nine kills, 12 digs and a .333 kill percentage to power a balanced attack. Patrick and Piper Toler also had nine kills, Katy Beals had a match-high 21 assists and libero Mackenzie Mayo added 10 digs.
As a team, Lake Travis had a .316 kill percentage compared to .057 for Pearce (36-14).
Pearce star Shelby Sullivan, a Texas A&M recruit, led her team with 10 kills and a .292 kill percentage. But it was far short of her stellar semifinal performance, when she took apart No. 29 Randall (Amarillo) with 20 kills and a .541 kill percentage.
Give credit to Lake Travis’ leaping ability up front and agility in the back row for making life difficult for Sullivan.
Pearce coach Jason Nicholson, whose team lost to Lake Travis last year in an epic five-set state semifinal, wasn’t surprised.
“We knew what we were walking into,” he said. “Lake Travis brought back everybody from last year.”
Everybody except coach Julie Green, that is. Green left for Coppell (Coppell), which won a state title in Class 5A later Saturday night.
Lake Travis replaced Green with Jennifer Kazmierski, who had been an assistant at Magnolia (Texas).
Kazmierski said she realized quickly that she had inherited great talent.
Asked if Lake Travis is the best high school team she has ever seen, Kazmierski was quick to respond.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I can’t even explain it. … You just don’t find high school teams with eight seniors who will play college volleyball next year like we have.”
Kazmierski’s bunch is the first team in Texas history to win 50 matches in a season. Lake Travis is also the first undefeated Texas state champ since Windthorst in 2004 and the 12th overall.
Pearce, meanwhile, came in on a 23-match win streak, dropping just four sets in that span.
But the Mustangs never got going against Lake Travis’ superior skill, speed and savvy.
“Our kids fought,” Nicholson said. “But by the third set, I think some fatigue set in because they had to extend themselves so much on every rally.”
Kazmierski said her team played better Saturday than it did in the semifinal. She said she could feel the difference in her team during Friday’s practice.
The pressure of trying to go the whole season without dropping a set had disappeared. Now there was just a singular goal – the state title – and a worthy opponent in Pearce.
Neal said last year’s state semifinal, when Pearce led Lake Travis two sets to none, came into her thought process on Saturday.
“We knew after what happened last season that they were going to fight hard,” Neal said. “We had to push our hardest to beat them.”
The Lake Travis seniors said the only thing that makes Saturday’s win bittersweet is the realization that their high school careers are over.
Soon, they will split up for college.
Before every practice, they reminded each other of that fact and promised to do everything they could to make their final run a success.
“The girls,” Neal said when asked what she will miss most about playing for Lake Travis. “We know everything about each other. We are weird with each other. It’s going to be weird not playing with them anymore.”
Four of Lake Travis’ seniors are considered big-time recruits: Neal (Texas), Patrick (Texas A&M), Beals (Washington) and Mayo (Baylor). Toler, meanwhile, plans to walk on at Texas Christian. The other Lake Travis players headed for college volleyball are Cassie Wang (Washington University of St. Louis), Gabby Bienkowski (Great Falls in Montana) and Kaci Easton (North Texas).
All of them, though, will fondly recall their phenomenal season of 2011.
“It’s pretty cool that we got 50-0,” Mayo said. “That’s solid – a nice, round number.”