Despite being pushed to a fifth set for the first time this season, Bradley Central was able to overcome perennial powerhouse Soddy-Daisy to complete a first-half District 5-AAA sweep.
“They (Soddy) kept digging out everything we were hitting at them, but we showed some fight and were able to battle back to get the win,” declared Bearette head coach Christie McElhaney after the hard-fought 20-25, 28-26, 25-21, 16-25, 15-12 victory in volleyball action Tuesday evening at Jim Smiddy Arena.
Now 16-3 on the season and a perfect 6-0 in 5-AAA play, Bradley will begin its second time around the district schedule Thursday with a trip to always tough Ooltewah.
After the Bearettes scored the first two points of the match, Soddy-Daisy (16-10, 4-2) ran off five straight points to take the lead. Bradley answered back with a 6-1 run to retake the advantage, but a 9-2 streak by the visitors gave them the lead for good in the opening game.
The Lady Trojans stretched their advantage to 21-14 before the hosts came back to make a game of it at 23-19 and 24-20, as junior Rebecca Reuter powered a pair of kills, plus downed a block, while senior setter Kayla Arp served up an ace. Soddy’s Alex Schafer capped off the opening win with one of her 22 kills on the night for the five-point finale.
Game 2 was a tooth-and-nail battle throughout, with 11 lead changes and 10 ties as Bradley was able to stave off a pair of set points before rallying for the final three points as Reuter and Arp once again teamed up with a kill and block from the 6-foot-2 junior, and a near-ace turned into a push winner by Arp. Neither team led by more than three points in the game.
“We had a couple of set points there in Game 2 that we weren’t able to finish off or else we’d have been up 2-0 with the momentum heading into the third game,” commented Lady Trojan coach Lorri Johnson. “We are playing five sophomores, so we still have to grow up some and times like that show our lack of experience.”
Soddy bounced back to score the first three points of the third game but once again the Bearettes came charging back with four straight points, including a dink by Arp, a downed block by Reuter and an ace from junior Brooke Copeland, to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until late in the game.
The Bearettes led by as many as five points in the middle of the set but the Lady Trojans wiped out that advantage with a 5-0 run off the serving of Schafer to go on top 18-17. The teams then traded the next half dozen points before Copeland served out the final four points of the game to put the hosts up 2-1.
Bradley came out on fire in Game 4 using a pair of aces by Arp, plus a pair of dinks, two blocks and a kill from Reuter in a 9-2 run. Down by a half dozen points twice, Soddy once again came charging back with a 17-3 run to regain the lead before the teams traded the final four points as the Lady Trojans forced a fifth and deciding set.
Despite starting the tie-breaker with an ace by Rachel Hargis, that would prove to be the final Soddy lead of the night. Bradley gained the upper hand with a 4-1 run that included a pair of Copeland kills, plus slams from Reuter and senior Brianna Howard.
The visitors were able to even the score at 4-all, but the Bearettes put five of the next seven points on the scoreboard. Back-to-back monster slams by Copeland pushed the advantage to five points but once again the Lady Trojans wouldn’t surrender, holding off a pair of match points to close the gap to 14-12 before Bradley was able to seal the victory.
“You have to give Bradley credit. The difference [for them] between last year and this is night-and-day,” assessed Johnson. “Their big girls (Copeland and Reuter, both 6-foot-2) are solid up front and on the back line as well. Overall we saw some good volleyball from both sides tonight.”
The Lady Trojans finished with 116 digs in the contest, including 29 from libero Hannah Robertson, 26 from Lauren Smith and 24 from Hargis.
“Their libero played great,” declared McElhaney. “We had a lot of long rallies because they kept digging everything out. Their defense gave our big hitters a run for their money tonight.”
As for her own team, McElhaney said, “We struggled to keep the momentum at times. I think we took some things for granted. We need to play a more complete game. We were trying to force some things, but when we spread the offense around more, we relaxed and settled down.”
Copeland continued her dominating play by once again leading the team in kills and digs with 24 and 15 respectively, plus she posted 17 service winners, including three aces.
Arp added 11 service points with four aces, seven digs, a trio of kills and three blocks to her 39 helps, while Reuter downed 23 kills, blocked nine shots and dug out 13 balls.
Sophomore Rachael Garrett helped out with 23 service receptions and seven digs, while Howard dug out eight shots. Sophomore Chanler Grady had 17 digs and 11 service points, while classmate Lisa Duvall had a dozen receptions, seven digs and five service points.