Surprise, surprise. Huntsville High School volleyball coach Debbie Hightower was voted Coach of the Year for 2005 by The Huntsville Item.

In a close vote, Hightower edged Sam Houston State track and field coach Curtis Collier, New Waverly High School volleyball coach Tim Gray, Alpha Omega Academy baseball coach Bert Lyle, SHSU softball coach Bob Brock and Bearkat volleyball coach Brenda Gray.

The Lady Hornets’ longtime coach, Hightower did what she always seems to do in 2005 — she led her team to the playoffs for the sixth straight season. With two rare wins over The Woodlands, she did it with style, and she did it with a bunch of young girls who came together under their coach’s guidance for a common purpose.

Humble and low-key, Hightower credited her players for all of their accomplishments in 2005.

“We lost some key players from last year’s team,” Hightower said before the Lady Hornets’ bi-district playoff victory over Waco. “We probably have far exceeded everyone’s expectations. We came back strong, and it is because the girls want to win. They get along great and the desire to win is incredible.”

The Lady Hornets went 12-4 during a long and grueling district season that saw them play six matches in a 12-day span thanks to Hurricane Rita. Casey Schindler, Sarah Hazlewood, sisters Tami and Kristi Tydlacka, Kim Black and Heather Wilson took their rearranged schedule in stride, going 5-1 during that hectic stretch.

Before Hurricane Rita roared into Texas, the Lady Hornets pulled off an amazing upset, rallying from an 0-2 deficit to beat the defending district champs from The Woodlands in five wild games.

“This is better than any game we have ever played in my history, and I am sure it is for (my teammates) as well,” Wilson said after the Lady Hornets pulled off the improbable. “We are the team to finally beat The Woodlands. The games were so close and we just had to stick together to pull that out. Wow.”

The Lady Hornets proved a few weeks later that their first win over The Woodlands was no fluke. Huntsville went on the road early in October and made it two in a row over the the Lady Highlanders. After the Lady Hornets dropped the second game, the third game was bouncing back and forth when Hightower got off the bench and fired up her players.

Huntsville’s veteran coach was not pleased with the officiating and she let everyone know it. The result was a yellow card, or a warning, not to complain again.

“Sometimes there are one or two things that fires up a team or makes them crumble,” Hightower said. “I didn’t think the game was being called right, and the team responded to what I did. Once we went up in those final two games, The Woodlands kind of gave up.”

Sophomore Kim Black led the Lady Hornets with 21 spikes to go along with three solo blocks in the second win over The Woodlands. Tami Tydlacka had 12 kills, and Wilson came up with 11. Setter Kristi Tydlacka directed the offense with 54 assists.

The Lady Hornets later clinched their sixth consecutive playoff spot and got revenge on Klein Collins on the same night. Early in the district season, Klein Collins swept the Lady Hornets and handed them their first district loss.

In the second meeting, Tami Tydlacka, Lori Tallent and Schindler, along with Hazlewood and Black, made sure that didn’t happen again.

“This feels so awesome,” said Hazlewood, who led Huntsville with 16 kills. “To be in the playoffs is the goal. We knew we had to pull together and show some heart out here. We did that tonight.

“We lost to Klein Collins earlier this season in three games,” added the junior, who was voted co-hitter of the year in 14-5A. “We wanted to prove that we’re not the same team that lost that match.”

In the first round of the playoffs, Huntsville spiked Waco in three games.

“We could’ve played a lot better, but we still won in three,” Tami Tydlacka said. “We had some good moments, but we had some really bad moments, too. We won that first game, then the next two games were way too close.”