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Panthers’ will paved way to another state berth

November 12, 2018

O’Connor coach Yami Garcia isn’t one to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past or peeking too far into the future when it comes to volleyball. She views each season as a canvas, an opportunity for a new group of players to built its own identity and set and reach goals.

Garcia admits entering this season she had concerns whether a desired picture would come into focus. The Panthers graduated half their roster from last year’s landmark run to the UIL Class 6A state tournament, including three players now playing at the NCAA Division I level — Allison Fields (Texas A&M), Aspen Thompson (Liberty) and Chinelo Ogogor (Wichita State) — and this year would be field a young and inexperienced squad.

“Honestly, I didn’t know coming into this season what to expect,” Garcia said. “I knew it was a rebuilding year. But it really showed me a lot about these kids. I’ve learned as a coach from them as much as they’ve learned from me.”

The biggest lesson was never underestimate a champion’s heart. Two points from defeat, O’Connor rallied to clip district rival Clark in five sets Saturday to claim their second straight Region IV-6A title and state-tournament berth.

The Panthers (41-11) will face Flower Mound (40-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in the 6A state semifinals at the Culwell Center in Garland. D’Hanis (32-13), the area’s other state qualifier, takes on Water Valley (30-11) at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the 1A semifinals.

“The team last year that we had, our seniors pushed us and pushed us and pushed us to be our best,” O’Connor senior setter Marina De La Rosa said. “This year, we tried filling in their footsteps, and it worked.”

It worked against the area’s best during the playoffs — Reagan in bidistrict, Clemens in the second round, district foe Brandeis in the third, McAllen Memorial in the regional semifinals and Clark in the regional final. O’Connor, which had an uncustomary 11 regular-season losses, defeated four district champions during the postseason.

“There was definitely a fire lit under our butts,” O’Connor senior libero Peyton Hummel said of her team raising its level of play during the postseason. “We wanted to win more than anything. Just the pressure of knowing that this can be your last game, especially for us seniors, it’s the best sort of motivation.

“Each win meant so much to us. Each game felt like it could be the last. We were reminded of that every single time. We wanted to get back to this position more than anything else.”

tthomas@express-news.net

Twitter: @en_terrence

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