SAN MARCOS, Texas – Pushed to five sets for the first time all season and playing without one of its stars, Lovejoy (Lucas) persevered and won its fourth straight state title Saturday.
The Leopards (48-4) beat Wylie (Abilene) 25-20, 18-25, 25-14, 23-25, 15-8 at Strahan Coliseum on the campus of Texas State University.
Lovejoy’s string of Class 3A titles appears likely to come to an end next season – but only because the school’s increased enrollment indicates a move up to 4A is coming.
Senior Nicole Newton finished with 12 kills as Lovejoy won its fourth straight state title.
Lovejoy, No. 18 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings, will also have to replace three key seniors for next season: Andie Malloy, Nicole Newton and Morgan Hofacker.
Malloy, a 6-2 setter and hitter who will play for Iowa State, is an especially big loss. She earned 3A MVP honors Saturday after posting a triple-double: 24 kills, 21 assists and 15 digs.
Malloy also won MVP honors in 2009.
“Winning MVP this year means so much to me,” said Malloy, her voice hoarse from yelling encouragement to her teammates. “Every year, our team has changed. It was great to be able to lead the team, no matter who else is out there.”
Malloy’s comment was a reference to 6-4 star middle hitter Ebony Nwanebu, who sat out her second straight game due to undisclosed reasons. It was termed a “coach’s decision” by Ryan Mitchell, who praised Malloy after the final.
“This kid’s been a stud since her freshman year,” Mitchell said. “But this year, she’s showed a lot of leadership.”
Lovejoy’s other seniors also showed the way for the team’s two freshmen, six sophomores and eight juniors. Newton had 12 kills and a match-high .556 kill percentage. Hofacker had 17 digs, which helped subdue Wylie (40-7).
When Malloy put down the match’s final point, Nwanebu was among the first Lovejoy players to storm the court in celebration. And Mitchell said he fully expects Nwanebu to be back on the team and in good standing next season.
Lovejoy is now tied for third for the best run in Texas history. The record is six straight titles, set by Class 1A Windthorst (Windthorst) from 1997 to 2002.
Mitchell said his deep roster made it possible Saturday.
“We have kids on our bench who could start for other programs,” Mitchell said. “We also have kids with character. When a hard decision is made, they have their coach’s back.”
In Saturday’s other Texas final involving at least one nationally ranked team, No. 34 Coppell beat No. 21 Boyd (McKinney) 25-22, 25-19, 20-25, 25-19.
With the victory, Coppell coach Julie Green completed an amazing feat, winning consecutive state titles with two different teams, including Lake Travis (Austin) in 2010.
Senior Kierra Holst, a 6-4 middle blocker, was named the 5A state finals MVP for Coppell (42-8). She had 19 kills and a .341 kill percentage in the win over Boyd (45-7).
Coppell also survived perhaps the most competitive class in the nation. At least six Class 5A teams that were nationally ranked at some point this season were beaten before the state final, including Carroll (Southlake); College Park (The Woodlands), Cypress Woods (Cypress), Westlake (Austin), Georgetown (Georgetown) and Johnson (San Antonio).