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Byron Nelson gets redemption after knocking out defending champ in quarterfinal classic

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 11/13/2019 By Brian Gosset, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

For over a year, Byron Nelson wanted Flower Mound in the third round again.

One more chance to face the team that cut its season short in 2018.

A battle of giants on Tuesday night between the third and fifth-ranked teams in the nation, according to USA Today, and yes, it lived up to the hype in front of 2,000 roaring fans.

And after the dust settled, there will be a new 6A state champion.

Byron Nelson got its revenge after eliminating Flower Mound, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 28-26 in a Class 6A Region 1 quarterfinal at Northwest High School.

“I’m so excited for our girls. I know that feeling of going to the regional tournament,” Nelson coach Bri Barker-Groth said. “We didn’t play our best tonight, but we found a way to win and I talk about that a lot. Great teams aren’t going to be great every single night, but great teams find ways to win.”

The Bobcats (46-2), which lost to Flower Mound 3-2 last season, advances to the regional tournament for the second time in three years to play El Paso Montwood, 7 p.m. Friday at Birdville ISD’s Thomas Coliseum.

“In the back of their minds, they were looking for redemption, we used that word a lot and the girls really stepped it up,” Barker-Groth said.

“Last year was heartbreaking, but we used it to fuel us and getting this redemption on them is the best feeling. It’s what we’ve been working for since last season,” added senior libero and Lamar commit Gia Santini, who had 24 digs and three aces. “When we finally got that point, it was a relief off our shoulders, like we’ve finally done it.”

Trailing by a game after the third set, the reigning UIL state champion Jaguars (40-4) scored the first two points in the fourth set and led 9-7 following a block from Bella Ortiz. Kaylee Cox, a Missouri commit who was named 6A state tourney MVP last season, put down one of her 21 kills to give Flower Mound an 11-10 edge, but the Jags were forced to call a timeout when a Santini ace put Nelson ahead 14-13.

From there, the game would see 10 ties.

The Bobcats grabbed a 22-19 lead, but the Jaguars tied it at 22. Nelson had match point, but Flower Mound flipped it around with a 25-24 advantage.

Skyler McKinnon, who will sign her national letter of intent with Harding on Wednesday, registered a block that gave Nelson a 26-25 lead. Nelson had a 27-26 edge after Paige Flickinger’s team-leading 26th kill and the Bobcats watched a ball go out-of-bounds before falling to the court in celebration.

“Ever since last year, losing 15-13 in the fifth set, it was a goal of ours all offseason. We knew we had to go through Flower Mound to get to where we want to be,” said Flickinger (23 digs), who will sign with LSU. “It was a huge win. We’ve working for this for awhile. We were more prepared and had a lot of motivation. We had a bad taste in our mouths from last season.”

“The message was to finish. We didn’t want to give up any momentum there late in the fourth,” Barker-Groth added. “I told them in the huddle to just think about that one point and put in your best effort.”

The Jaguars started hot with the first three points in the opening set. They led 7-2 to force a Nelson timeout. Cox and Arizona State commit Angelique Cyr (team-high 24 kills) paced Flower Mound in the first game as the Jags never trailed.

Flower Mound looked poised to grab a 2-0 lead when it led by 16-9 in the second set, but Nelson went on a 7-1 run to get within 17-16 on UCLA commit Charitie Luper’s kill.

The Bobcats were able to take the lead and Luper, who finished with 25 kills, a .400 hitting percentage and 22 digs, scored on match point to knot the contest at 1.

“We stayed relaxed and played as a team,” Luper said. “We didn’t play as individuals, we didn’t shut down and we fought for every point.”

“Charitie dominated tonight. She was lethal and helped us win the game,” Barker-Groth added.

Nelson had its biggest lead of the night at 11-4 in the third set, highlighted by a pair of kills from Luper, which was assisted by Wyoming commit Payton Chamberlain, who had a game-high 63 assists, second most in program history.

Flower Mound responded with three straight points to pull within 14-12. McKinnon’s block put Nelson up 19-17 and kills by Flickinger and Luper gave Nelson a 22-20 edge. A kill from Cox pulled the Jags within one, but two more points from Luper and a kill from Nina Petersen gave the Bobcats a 2-1 advantage.

“This was definitely one of our goals and it feels awesome. We wanted to come out and beat them,” said Chamberlain, who added seven digs and three blocks. “Our crowd and coaches got us fired up and we realized we could win in four. It was so much fun.”

Caroline Dykes and Megan Farris combined for 46 assists for the Jags while Sarah Martinez (Houston) had a game-high 33 digs. Byron Nelson’s Eden Fusselman added 17 digs for the Bobcats.

“We finally had our time to shine and we worked amazing as one team,” added McKinnon, who chipped in five kills and five digs. “We’ve been waiting for this day since last year. It was about redemption and our theme was win and redeem.”

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