Every fall for the past four years, Karleigh Hill and Mollee Henicke donned a Goliad volleyball jersey and helped lead the Tigerettes to unprecedented success.
They built a legacy that will be nearly impossible to match for any girls who come after them.
They wrote the final chapter in that legacy last week.
They didn’t ride off into the sunset with a win, but they both said that won’t dampen the deep sense of pride they feel for what they were able to accomplish.
“I think it’s a good legacy,” Hill said after the Tigerettes fell to Bushland in three sets in the 3A state championship match at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, the site of Hill and Henicke’s crowning achievement, the 2017 3A state championship.
“I think they have a lot to work for next year for the returners. I’m just proud of this team.”
Henicke echoed that.
“I’m so proud of where we’ve come and how we got here,” she said during a virtual press conference that was hosted on Zoom by the UIL.
“It stings to fall short at the very last game, but I’m still super proud of this team.
“This season has meant a lot to me because the past two years, we have fallen short of getting to state. Regardless of the outcome of this game, I’m really happy that we got here.”
Their coach will readily admit that Goliad wouldn’t have been there if not for them.
“If we were able to have two captains this year, they would be it,” Tigerette coach Jess Odem said about the duo. “They ran every practice the way they were supposed to. They ran every workout the way they were supposed to.
“... I can’t thank those two enough for really pouring out their hearts and souls into this game and giving everything they had at every opportunity.”
The duo, in four years, played in a pair of state championship contests in 2017 and now 2020, and led Goliad to regional runner-up finishes in both 2018 and 2019.
The final chapter in their prep stories – and those of fellow seniors Julia Morris, Karli Buenger and Maddy Reitz – will read that they fell in three sets to a Bushland Falcon squad that had suffered the fate of falling in the finals the year prior and wasn’t going to let any team stand in its way of taking the gold trophy home.
The Falcons, behind championship game MVP Kinley Rudder, won a tight decision 25-21 in the first set, then rolled to 25-10 wins in both the second and third sets to snap Goliad’s 24-match win streak.
In the early going of that first set, neither team led by more than two points until Bushland (31-2) grabbed a 14-11 advantage. Goliad rallied back, though, twice tying the set at 16-all and 17-all, but could never take the lead.
Bushland twice forged three-point advantages after that, including a 22-19 lead.
Then, Hill recorded back-to-back kills off assists from Henicke on the next two points to make it 22-21, but Bushland answered with two kills and then an ace on set point to take the 1-0 lead in the match.
The early part of the second set mirrored the back-and-forth theme of the first set, but that only lasted through the first 15 points.
Rudder and Hallie Conklin powered a Bushland run that saw the Falcons win 16 of the final 20 points for a runaway victory and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The momentum had clearly swung and the Tigerettes (29-4) were never able to get it back after that.
“It’s tough, especially in this game, this situation,” said Odem about not being able to rebound once Bushland took control. “One team has the fire and one team is battling back by the skin of their teeth just to get a point. When you enter (a period) like that, it’s hard to come back out of that. You only have two timeouts, so you can only slow the game down so many times.”
In the third set, Bushland turned an early 3-2 lead into a 16-3 advantage and the Falcons cruised from there.
As Bushland crept toward match point, Goliad won four out of six to make it 23-10, but Rudder hammered down back-to-back kills on the next two points to give Bushland its fifth state volleyball title in school history.
Rudder was named the MVP after recording a match-best 19 kills. Conklin recorded 13.
Hill had a team-best seven kills for Goliad, while her little sister, Kyla, recorded five. Brook Jackson added four and Abby Yanta posted three.
Henicke finished her career with a double-double of 17 assists and 10 digs.
Buenger had a team-high 12 digs for the Tigerettes. Morris recorded nine digs.
“It’s going to burn for a while that we didn’t finish the way we wanted to,” said Odem afterward. “I don’t think the last two sets really reflect the talent of our team.”
Odem, though, is hopeful that burn will spark a raging fire.
“I hope this lights a fire in their souls where all they can think about is making it back here and making it a different outcome,” she said about what coming up short in the state finals could do for Goliad’s rich crop of returnees.
“Those girls who are coming back,” Henicke said, “it’s going to be eating at their soul and I hope that gets them back here and they win.”