ORDER ON THE COURT

in Volleyball

After facing the challenge of quality opponents in non-district competition, Class 3A Clifton Lady Cub volleyball hopes to bounce back, re-establish winning ways in district play

After advancing to the 2021 Class 3A volleyball state playoffs for the first time since 2014, the Class 3A Clifton Lady Cub volleyball team entered this season with nine returning varsity players wanting more. And now, it’s time to get it done on the court.

Despite struggling through a rough week against two state-ranked opponents, the Lady Cubs (8-8) turn their attention to District 17-3A competition beginning with the previously state-ranked Keene Lady Chargers (11-4) on the road at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Coming off three consecutive straight set losses to Class 3A’s 22nd-ranked Lorena Lady Panthers, Class 2A’s 15th-ranked Bosqueville Lady Bulldogs and the Cameron Lady Yoemen, Clifton will look to return to its winning ways in district. Against Bosqueville last Friday, junior Sydney Fullerton led the Lady Cubs with 10 kills and five assists, followed by senior Camryn Caniford with nine kills, while junior Laylah Gaona came up with a team-high 24 digs.

“We struggled to find our tempo in the game,” Clifton first-year head coach Whitney Holdbrook said. “We would make comebacks in the set, but just couldn’t find a way to finish.”

In addition to battling Keene in District 17-3A, the Lady Cubs will be facing 15th-ranked West (17-7), Grandview (17-6), Whitney (7-17) Maypearl and Harmony Science Academy in hopes of making a return trip to the Class 3A playoffs.

After opening the season by winning five of their first six matches, Clifton faced off with a host of larger schools at the highly-competitive Glen Rose Tournament held Aug. 18-20, dropping four of six decisions.

“We faced some tough opponents in the Glen Rose tournament, and the team battled hard to make the silver bracket on Saturday,” Holdbrook said. “I really think the girls handled this tournament well, and it helped prepare them to be successful in district.”

In one of the hardest fought matches of the season, the Lady Cubs swept past Rio Vista, 26-24, 27-25, 25-22, at home Aug. 16 as junior Carly Howard, Carley Caniford, junior Kate Humphreys, Fullerton and Camryn Caniford shared the workload attacking at the net.

“The girls showed their refuse to lose mentality against Rio,” Clifton’s first-year head coach Whitney Holdbrook said. “Everyone on the team stepped up and contributed at different points during the game, whether it was a point saving dig or a chance to kill the ball. I am proud of their effort they gave, and the will they show to win.”

Against Rio Vista, Howard led Clifton with eight kills, followed by Carly Caniford with seven, Humphreys with six, as well as Fullerton and Camryn Caniford with five each. Junior Alyssa Santillan came up with a team-high 15 digs, while Fullerton led the Lady Cubs with 17 assists and three service aces, and sophomore Cameron Ritz dished out 11 assists and three aces.

Carrying that momentum into the Glen Rose Tournament, the Lady Cubs won two out of four matches Aug. 19 to earn a place in the Silver Bracket. After opening with a 25-23, 25-17 victory over Class 4A Bridgeport behind Humphreys’ team-high nine kills, the Lady Cubs lost back-to-back matches to Class 4A Wimberley, 25-12, 25-14, and Class 5A Denton, 25-11, 25-14, before salvaging a win over Class 4A Fort Worth Eastern Hills, 25-20, 25-10.

In the win over Eastern Hills, Carly Caniford led the Lady Cubs with seven kills, followed by Fullerton with six and junior Brianna Gonzalez with five. Fullerton added six service aces and six digs, while Ritz dished out 10 assists. But in Silver Bracket competition Aug. 20, Clifton dropped two straight, falling to Class 5A Burleson, 25-13, 25-17, before being eliminated by Granbury’s North Central Texas Academy, 25-20, 25-21.

“We faced some tough opponents in the Glen Rose tournament, and the team battled hard to make the silver bracket on Saturday,” Holdbrook said. “I really think the girls handled this tournament well, and it helped prepare them to be successful in district.”

Putting aside losses to high-level, quality opponents in the tournament, the Lady Cubs swept past the Class 2A Hico Lady Tigers, 26-24, 25-11, 25-22 last Tuesday at the Clifton High Gymnasium. Humphreys led Clifton with 11 kills, followed by Gonzalez with eight and Carley Caniford with seven. Fullerton produced team-highs in service aces (6), assists (20) and digs (19), while Santillan came up with 16 digs and a team-high 24 service receptions, and Ritz served up four aces.

“The girls had a slow start against Hico, but they found a way to win the first set being behind by as many as eight points,” Holdbrook said. “I am proud that they fought through and finished the set. In the second set, they came out with determination and showed what they are capable of doing.”

Set to enter her fifth season as the Lady Cub basketball head coach, Holdbrook takes over the volleyball program this season after serving as the varsity assistant for the last three years. After graduating from Lorena High School, Holdbrook played college basketball and has seven years of experience coaching volleyball.

“I love coaching in Clifton because we have great kids and a supportive community,” Holdbrook said. “We have a strong team returning nine varsity players from last season. Team expectations are the same as they have been, come out every day ready to compete and improve. This season, we are looking for everyone on the team to contribute.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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