When Trinity came up six points short to Midlothian last week in the final set of the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, coach Mia Langi had a simple message for her team.
“I just told them to be proud of their effort and their season this year,” Langi said. “Our girls played tough.”
The five-set loss (25-13, 20-25, 20-25, 25-15, 15-9) marked the fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit for the Lady Trojan volleyball program, but the match’s start had Trinity fans eyeing possible second round opponents, as the Lady Trojans grabbed the early momentum with a clean 25-13 win in the first set. An early 6-0 run put Trinity up 14-6 before middle blocker Abby Morphew found empty space in the Lady Panther defense for two tips that gave Trinity a 21-10 advantage.
But Midlothian turned the match in the Lady Panthers’ favor in sets 2 and 3. Trinity had the early lead in the second set before a 7-0 Midlothian run gave the Lady Panthers a 14-7 advantage.
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Another Morphew tip pulled Trinity to within 21-19 later in the second, but Midlothian closed the set out and tied the match on Tarin Mergener’s cross-court kill for the 25-20 win.
“We just had too many errors early in those sets,” Langi said. “Having to come back made it tough.”
With backs to the wall down 2-1, the Lady Trojans took control early in the fourth set. Setter Margaret Dean found space in the Midlothian defense for a tip that gave Trinity an early 8-3 lead before outside hitter Elli Merchant’s kill to an open back corner put the Lady Trojans up 18-12.
The 25-15 win tied the match and forced the deciding fifth. But in a fifth set that goes only to 15 points, the ball seemed to bounce Midlothian’s way early on. Langi called timeouts down 5-2 and later with the Lady Trojans down 10-4, but Trinity couldn’t make up the deficit in the shortened deciding set.
Senior hitter Zoe Howard came up with a big block with Trinity facing elimination down 14-8, but Midlothian middle blocker CeCe Madison’s kill to the back row sealed the win for the Lady Panthers on the next point.
Merchant led Trinity with 12 kills against Midlothian, while Howard tallied nine, to go along with five blocks. Defensive specialist Amanda McDowell led the Lady Trojans with 16 digs, while Dean notched 32 assists in the season ender.
But even with a fourth straight exit in the first round of the playoffs, the future looks bright for Trinity. Merchant, the Lady Trojans’ season leader in kills (286), Dean, who led in assists (708) as the setter, and McDowell, who led Trinity in digs (598) this season are all juniors who will presumably return for one more run with the Lady Trojans next year.