McKinley’s return to the playoffs was as simple as 1-2-3. Win three sets and advance.
The Panthers swept Haughton 3-0 in Division II volleyball first-round playoff action. No. 11 seed McKinley (21-7) rolled to 25-12, 25-23 and 25-12 victories over No. 22 Haughton (14-15) Thursday at McKinley.
It was the first postseason appearance for McKinley athletics since the end of the one-year playoff ban in all sports for 2018-19 because of LHSAA violations. It was also McKinley's first volleyball playoff appearance since 2013.
“It means the world to get this playoff win,” McKinley coach Nicole Gillette said. “We rose above the challenges. We played with energy and played together. It’s a great feeling to advance.”
Kodi Watson, a 5-foot-10 senior, led the Panthers with 10 kills and eight blocks. Junior Kaelyn Hills was also strong at the net with five kills and seven blocks. Junior Alicia Edwards added seven kills and a team-high 11 digs and junior Ke’Ira Collier had five kills and 10 digs. Setter Tyrianna Jarrell had 16 assists.
“I’m so proud of us,” Watson said. “We’ve been practicing really hard. We’re so glad that the sanctions are all over. My team is my motivation. They push me and I push them. Our team bond is really strong this season.”
McKinley will travel to No. 6 Lee Magnet in the regionals. Lee swept No. 27 Riverdale.
Haughton put up its best fight in the second set. The set was tied five times. Haughton led 3-0 early and later 8-7. McKinley rallied to lead 13-10 follow a Collier shot. McKinley led 22-18, but the Bucs scored four straight points to tie it at 22. The set was again tied at 23. Haughton served out and McKinley’s Watson punched home the game-winner.
“McKinley has some athletes,” Haughton coach Justin Ginn said. “They’re big and hit hard. They took advantage of our weaknesses.
“I really don’t think we played very well, but we fought. I’m proud of the girls. We did win our district for the third year in a row.”
Collier served an ace to put the Panthers up 23-10 in the first set. Haughton served out for the final point.
With Brianna Rankins serving, McKinley jumped to a 5-0 lead in the third set. The Bucs scored three straight to cut the margin to 5-3 and soon trailed 9-5. McKinley went on a 7-0 run to pull ahead 16-5 with Jarrell serving and Collier and others at the net. Haughton scored the next three points before Collier added a kill and Darah Ranel a cross shot to put McKinley up 18-8. Edwards had an ace late in the set and Hill and Collier combined for a block for the final point.
Haughton’s all-time kills leader Arielle Emanuel had nine kills.