By Stephen Collins

 Sports Editor

HOUSTON – Getting off to a slow start proved to be a fatal formula for the Manvel Lady Mavericks the third time round.

While managing to recover against Santa Fe and Cedar Park during the previous two rounds, Manvel was unable to unveil the cardiac magic in time to prevent a 22-25, 23-25, 25-19 and 24-26 defeat to Friendswood in the Region III-5A volleyball finals at Delmar Fieldhouse. The defeat also snapped a 25-match winning streak by the Lady Mavs.

The Lady Mavs, who closed their season with a school-record 42-7 mark, were also making their first ever appearance in the fifth round of the playoffs. Manvel advanced to the title match by ousting Cedar Park in four sets by 25-27, 25-18, 25-19 and 25-18 scores in the semifinals on Friday.

Friendswood (34-17) advances to the state tournament this upcoming weekend in Garland after being eliminated in the same round by Kingwood Park in 2018.

“We definitely didn’t play our best and we didn’t show up for games one and two,” Manvel head coach Susan Kennedy said following the match. “We did have people who were shut down a little bit and we also made some unforced errors.”

Manvel won the third set and appeared to be on the verge of sending things to a fifth and deciding game with a 22-19 lead in the fourth. However, the Lady Mustangs erupted for four straight tallies to take the upper hand at 23-22. The Lady Mavs forced ties at 23-23 and 24-24, but Ashlyn Svoboda’s kill and an ace by Tori Weatherly closed it out for Friendswood.

“We had a lead in game four and let them come back in,” Kennedy said. “We turned it around and dominated in game three, but just didn’t hold that lead we should have in four. We had a lot of hitting errors and got blocked a couple of times. We couldn’t shut down that right side. She kept nailing it down the line on us.”

The teams battled to six early ties with Morgan Smith, Aryn Johnson and Devyn Lewis providing the hitting damage for Manvel. Kristen Spruill also chipped in an ace to even things at 17-17, but Sarah Sitton and Alessandra Meoni put the Lady Mustangs in front for good with respective kills  and Manvel later committed a hitting error at game point to give the first set to Friendswood.

Makensy Manbeck joined Meoni, Cierra Pesak and Svoboda with key spikes in game two for a 24-19 Lady Mustangs’ cushion. Smith tried to rally Manvel back behind two kills and a solo block, but Meoni hammered a baseline shot to make it a two-set edge in Friendswood’s favor.

The Lady Mavs finally broke out to both their first multi-point and double digit leads in the third set. Ceci Harness caught the Friendswood defense off balance with a set dump, while three straight kills by Smith, Hailey Turner and Mya Singleton spikes and an Aryn Johnson tip paved the way for an 18-8 Manvel lead. The Lady Mustangs later closed within 22-18, but kills by Johnson and Singleton combined with Friendswood hitting the ball out of play at game point to send the issue to a fourth set.

Smith paced the MHS offense with 18 kills and five blocks, while Johnson produced a double double with 15 kills and 13 digs and Harness added 41 assists and two blocks.

Other match totals for Manvel included Turner with 15 digs and two aces, Spruill with 15 digs and Loryn Flores with 11 digs.

In the regional semifinals against Cedar Park on Friday, Johnson delivered a double double with 17 kills and 17 assists, while Harness did likewise with 42 assists, 13 digs, four blocks and two aces.

Smith added 12 kills and six blocks, while other match totals included Mya Singleton with 10 kills, Spruill with 21 digs, Hailey Turner with six kills and 17 digs and Lewis with six kills and two blocks.

“We had some amazing seniors,” Kennedy said. “They worked their tails off in practice. Even the ones who didn’t get to play a lot always showed up with great attitudes. Morgan broke a career blocking record and Ceci and Aryn also broke records (for assists and kills). A team like that doesn’t come around very often.

“When they played well together, they were pretty hard to stop.

Manvel had opened the week by topping Santa Fe in four sets by 23-25, 25-18, 25-27, 25-14 and 15-10 scores in the Region III quarterfinals on Nov. 12 in Pearland.

With the Lady Mavs trailing 8-5 in the fifth game, Smith blasted five kills and blocked a pair of shots to spark a match-ending 10-2 run for Manvel.

Johnson drilled 24 kills and added 32 digs for a double double and Harness did likewise with 59 assists and 27 digs. Smith tallied 16 kills and six blocks, as well.

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