After extending their season with an emotionally charged five-set victory over one extremely tough team, Bradley Central’s Bearettes couldn’t quite get that same intensity for another in the District 5-AAA title match Wednesday evening at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“Last night (Tuesday) we were playing for our season. Tonight we knew we were going to be playing Monday in Cookeville regardless of the outcome. We didn’t have the same spark,” remarked coach Christie McElhaney after her No. 2 seeded Bearettes forced a fourth set, but eventually fell to top-seeded Ooltewah 4-1.
Both the Bearettes and Lady Owls advance to the Region 3-AAA Tournament, which will begin Monday evening in Cookeville. Ooltewah (32-18) will take on District 6-AAA runner-up Coffee County at 6 p.m., while Bradley (27-13) will tangle with the host and 6-AAA champion Lady Cavaliers (21-23) at 8.
After splitting their two regular season matches with a Bearette sweep at Smiddy Arena and a four-set win by the Lady Owls in “The Barn,” Wednesday’s district championship drew in excess of 500 fans to the witness the 25-20, 25-19, 23-25, 25-17 Ooltewah win.
Coming off a sweep in their semifinal match the night before, the Lady Owls jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead in the opening game. The Bearettes trimmed the deficit a little with a 5-3 spurt, before Ooltewah delivered a body blow with five straight points, including a pair of aces by tournament MVP Kelsey Chernak, to double the hosts’ tally at 18-9.
The teams then traded 3-0 runs before Bradley got up off the canvas with a an 8-2 counterattack, which included a trio of kills and a downed block from regular season Co-MVPs Brooke Copeland and Kayla Arp to pull within three. However Ooltewah was able to get off the ropes and deliver a big knocked punch when 6-foot-2 Leondra Barrett slammed home the game winner.
After the break to swap ends of the court, Bradley opened Round 2 with a flurry with Copeland starting things off with a kill and adding a “push,” plus three service points, to key a 5-1 run that also saw a kill by sophomore Lisa Duvall and a double downed block from Arp and junior Rebecca Reuter.
With four more kills by Copeland, plus two and a dink for Reuter, the Bearettes maintained their advantage at 16-12 before the Lady Owls came screeching back to score 13 of the game’s final 16 points to go up 2-0 in the match.
Game 3 was the slugfest of the night with five lead changes and eight ties. After the two teams swapped the first 26 points evenly Bradley went on a 5-1 spurt that included three attack points by Reuter, plus a net ace and a dink by Arp.
Ooltewah coach Elaine Peigen called a timeout to refocus her squad and the tactic worked, as Karly Newman and Courtlyn Ison combined for five downed blocked and a pair of kills in a 9-1 run to retake the advantage.
Backed into a corner, the Bearettes came out fighting and after regaining control, sophomore Chanler Grady served up six straight winners as Copeland went on a tear with four straight kills to finish off the visitors 25-23.
After another three more Copeland kills, plus one from Reuter, to open Game 4, the Lady Owls showed why they have a 30-win season, going on a 16-6 run to put the hosts on the ropes again.
The Bearettes were able to muster one last run to cut the difference to a half dozen, but that was as close as they’d come with Newman putting the cap on the Ooltewah win with a final kill shot.
“Both sides have a lot of talented players, and we had some lulls, but we knew what was at stake and it came down to whoever wanted it more,” declared coach Peigen. “Everybody contributed. We had a total team effort. Bradley is a great team and we knew we’d have to be ready to play, and we were.”
Chernak finished with 31 assists, 15 digs, eight kills and a pair of blocks, while Barrett had 15 slams and 2.5 blocks. Newman collected 13 kills and 18 digs in the victory, with Isabela Zdunek adding a dozen digs and nine kills. Ison posted 7.5 blocks and seven slams.
The district runner-up last season to Soddy-Daisy, the district championship was the first for Ooltewah since 2009.
“It was a tough match,” declared coach McElhaney. “We might have been exhausted after going five sets with Soddy because we looked a little flat at times. At the end of the night though, Ooltewah executed and were consistent. We didn’t have that big monster push to change the tide.”
“In the matches we’ve lost this year, we’ve had death by service errors and we did that again tonight,” the Bearette coach added. “The first game sums it up. We had eight service reception errors and two serve errors. That’s 10 points we gave them in a five-point loss.”
Arp finished with 37 assists on the evening, plus she had 21 digs, a dozen service points, two kills and a pair of aces.
Copeland posted 23 kills, 15 receptions, 15 digs and a pair of blocks, while “Twin Tower” partner Reuter collected 18 kills, four blocks, eight receptions and a trio of digs.
Grady served up 10 winners and had eight digs, while Duvall finished with 10 digs, five receptions and a trio of kills. Whitney Donaldson returned 13 serves and dug out eight shots for the hosts.
All Tournament Team
MVP: Kelsey Chernak (O); Marissa Langford, Eva Wilhelm (C); Brooke Copeland, Rebecca Reuter, Kayla Arp, Brianna Howard (BC); Karly Newman, Leondra Barrett, Izabela Zdunek, Sloan Sullivan, Courtlyn Ison (O); Hanna Robertson, Alex Schafer (SD).