PNG’s playoff trek reaches third game, back home

Published 11:59 pm Monday, November 7, 2016

PORT NECHES — Longtime volleyball coach Barbara Comeaux reminded the students at Port Neches-Groves High that they were welcome to the Rock-A-Noos’ area-round playoff match against Galveston Ball in Baytown.

“If you all don’t have anything to do tonight, we’d like for you to come watch us,” Comeaux recalled saying half-jokingly during a football pep rally, surmising a vast majority of them would watch the Bum Phillips Bowl.

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Those who did voyage to Sterling High saw a long drought broken: The Rock-A-Noos qualified for their first regional round since 2003, beating Ball in four sets. Just three nights earlier, they earned their first bi-district victory since 2012.

Now, the road to the state finals in Garland goes through Port Neches for the District 22-5A co-champions.

“Everybody’s been talking about it around the whole school,” senior right-side hitter Hannah Jones said. “Everyone’s coming, which is really good for us because having people support you definitely makes you want to win not just for yourself or your whole team, but the community. Not only does the community support the football, they also support us.”

The Rock-A-Noos (31-11) have won seven straight matches and will host Barbers Hill (34-11) at 6 tonight. The winner will face Cedar Park or Magnolia at 7 p.m. Friday at Texas Southern University in Houston, with a chance to advance to the regional final there at 1 p.m. Saturday. The state semifinals and championships will be held at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

“It’s like a great honor knowing our whole hometown will be here supporting us,” senior middle and outside hitter Cheyanne Orozco said.

PNG faced Barbers Hill earlier this season in a tournament at Dickinson, with the Rock-A-Noos losing in two very close matches. But the Rock-A-Noos arose from a challenging non-district slate to go 13-1 in 22-5A play, losing only at home to Nederland. (PNG won a five-set tiebreaking game against Nederland to earn the No. 1 seed, since it had won in the Bulldogs’ dome.)

“I think since August, we’ve figured out our lineup, like who goes where, and our team chemistry has gotten better since we’ve spent more time with each other,” senior middle blocker Kailey Oliver said. “I think everything is coming together at the right time.”

Jones said the Rock-A-Noos don’t get down on themselves quickly after an unsuccessful rally or set as they did earlier in the season and show more fight.

“I think we all have the same mindset and goal,” she said.

PNG last made a regional semifinal in 2002. With three more wins including tonight, the Rock-A-Noos will be in the final four for the first time since 1981, when they won their third state championship in 10 years (1972 and 1979). PNG was runner-up in 1980.

The banners inside the competition gym are a reminder of the program’s rich tradition under Comeaux, the coach since 1971 and recent Texas Girls Hall of Fame inductee. The 2016 seniors, playing in PNG’s 34th straight playoff appearance, have earned their place in history, and they want to keep going.

“Very special,” Orozco said. “It’s a lot of pride and tradition playing for [Comeaux], especially.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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