The two teams at the center of the District 5-AAA volleyball seeding controversy will get to settle it on the court tonight with the championship title on the line.
Bradley Central, which was seeded second after the “interpretation” of the by-laws were voted on at the coaches meeting, claimed an exciting five-set victory over No. 3 Soddy-Daisy Tuesday evening in the district semifinals at Jim Smiddy Arena, while top-seeded Ooltewah brought No. 4 Cleveland’s season to a close in straight sets.
“Our girls stepped up in a big way tonight,” declared Bearette head coach Christie McElhaney after the 19-25, 25-19, 25-23, 28-30, 15-10 win over the Lady Trojans. “It was a match (in which) both teams played their hearts out. It could have gone either way, but we were able to put it together at the end when we needed to.”
Now 27-12 on the season, Bradley will face the Lady Owls, who are 31-11 after sweeping the Lady Raiders 25-17, 25-20, 25-21, in tonight’s championship match beginning at 6.
Bradley, Soddy-Daisy and Ooltewah all tied for the top spot in the district during the regular season with 9-3 league records, having split with each other in head-to-head competition.
With Tuesday night’s victories, both the Bearettes and Lady Owls have also qualified for the Region 3-AAA Tournament with tonight’s victor getting to host Coffee County Monday evening, while the loser has to travel to District 6-AAA champions Cookeville.
The top-seeded Cookeville squad defeated No. 4 Cumberland County in straight sets (25-15, 25-12, 25-12) in the semifinals Tuesday evening, then turned around and did the same to Coffee (25-16, 25-15, 25-18) for the title.
Bearettes 3, Lady Trojans 2
Bradley scored four of the match’s first five points, but in a preview of what was to come, Soddy (32-19) fought back to even the score. The Bearettes once again went ahead with a 4-1 run only to have the visitors battle back to even the score at 9-all.
The two teams then traded the next 15 points before the 2011 TSSAA state tournament participant Lady Trojans took control to claim the opening game with an 8-3 run, including back-to-back Bearette errors for the final two points.
Bradley only trailed twice— 1-0, 4-3— in the second game. Using a pair of 5-0 runs behind the serving of sophomores Lisa Duvall and Chanler Grady, the Bearettes built an 18-12 advantage before the Lady Trojans once again rallied to within a point at 20-19.
After regaining the serve thanks to a downed block by 6-foot-2 junior Rebecca Reuter, senior setter Kayla Arp used her powerful jump serve to account for the final four points, including closing the game with back-to-back net aces to even the match at a game apiece.
Game 3 saw both teams make big runs, but in the end only two points separated them. Bradley started the middle game with an ace from senior Brianna Howard to key a 4-1 run,
The Lady Trojans responded with six straight points as part of a 9-1 streak to take a five-point lead. Facing a 13-9 deficit a few moments later, the Bearettes went on a 7-2 roll to retake the lead.
The teams traded the next seven points to knot the game at 19-all before Reuter served up three aces and got a power slam from fellow “Twin Tower” Brooke Copeland to put the hosts up by four. Once again the tenacious Trojans battled back with a 4-1 run before Copeland could close the game out with one of her 30 kills on the night.
With Bradley up 2-1 in the game count, the teams traded the lead seven times and saw the score tied 11 times in Game 4. Soddy scored the first two points and led until back-to-back net aces by Arp gave Bradley its first lead at 5-4. The Lady Trojans regained the advantage with a 6-2 run and eventually held a 20-14 lead.
The Black-and-Gold was able to shave one point off the lead with a Duvall ace before Copeland took over with nine straight attack points (kills, dinks, downed blocks) to close the gap. Reuter got in the act with a pair of kills before Copeland drilled another slam.
However, during this same time Bradley’s serving went haywire, with two net serves and one that went out of bounds, preventing the Bearettes from putting the match away.
The teams alternated a dozen points before an ace from Soddy’s Rachel Hargis forced game point and a Bearette long hit allowed the visitors to even the match at two games apiece.
After McElhaney reminded them their season was on the line and it was time to get it together, the Bearettes never trailed in the tie-breaker.
Copeland opened the deciding game with a kill and, after an ace by Arp a little later, she downed a block for a 7-3 lead. Soddy pulled back within a point at 7-6 and 8-7 before Bradley strung together three straight to get a little breathing room.
Another Bearette service error stalled the rally, but Howard got the ball back with a big kill to the far corner. “That was a huge play,” proclaimed McElhaney. “We had been going to Brooke (Copeland) and Rebecca (Rueter) so much that they (Soddy) weren’t expecting Brianna to fire that ball into the corner.”
The Lady Trojans fought back one last time to trim the difference to just two points, but after a service error of their own, Reuter capped the victory with a block and a kill, sending the Bearettes to their first region tournament since 2007.
“We’d do good at times. Then we’d let them take the momentum,” McElhaney assessed. “We let them hang around there in the fourth game and they beat us. However, we came right back at them in the tie-breaker.”
“We need to do a better job of finishing matches off when we have the opportunity,” she added. “Our seniors did a great job. Brooke (Copeland) and Rebecca (Reuter) fixed some things they’d been working on and stayed focused to do a great job.”
Copeland added 32 service receptions, 14 digs, a dozen service points and five blocks to her 30 kills, while her Co-District Player of the Year, Arp, handed out 37 assists and 11 service winners, including five aces, plus she had a half dozen digs, three kills and a pair of blocks.
Reuter collected 17 digs, 10 attack points, nine receptions, eight service winners and 6.5 blocks. Howard garnered 11 digs, seven service points, a trio of receptions, two kills and a pair of aces.
Duvall added a dozen receptions, nine digs, seven service winners and three kills. Grady had 12 digs and eight service points.
For Soddy, Alex Schafer had 20 kills, 18 digs and a trio of blocks, with Chloe Mitchell handing out 28 assists and Hannah Robertson digging out 27 shots.
Lauren Smith helped out with 25 digs and nine kills, while Hargis added 19 digs. Haley Reynolds had a half dozen stuff blocks and five kills for the Lady Trojans.
“I knew with three teams tying for the top spot, this (the tournament) was going to be a dogfight,” commented coach Lorri Johnson, who just completed her 32nd year at the Soddy helm. “Somebody has to go home and, unfortunately, tonight it’s us.”
“We put it all out there, but sometimes our youth showed,” she added, pointing out her team lost nine players (six seniors to graduation, two juniors and a sophomore — all of whom saw considerable playing time — to injuries) off of last year’s state tournament team. “We were playing five sophomores on the court a lot of the time. Hopefully this will help us the next couple of years as they get experience.”
“We love it (volleyball), so we’ll be back at it as soon as they (the TSSAA) lets us and start getting ready for next year,” coach Johnson concluded.
Lady Owls 3, Lady Raiders 0
After an emotionally draining five-set victory over county-rival Walker Valley in Monday night’s opening round, Cleveland made a strong showing but the powerful Ooltewah squad proved to be too much.
An early 5-1 run and five straight points midway helped the Lady Owls build a seven-point advantage in the opening game. The Lady Raiders were able to close the gap to four with a 6-3 run, but Ooltewah scored six of the final eight points to take the first game 25-17.
Seeded fourth in the event, Cleveland put the first three points on the scoreboard in Game 2, but Ooltewah answered with three of its own.
Junior Marissa Langford then got hot and strung together four kill shots to go along with an ace from KK Clements in a 9-1 Lady Raider run. However, once again the girls from just down Interstate 75 answered with a half dozen straight points to regain the lead.
After the teams traded a half dozen points, the Lady Owls put up four straight winners for a five-point edge before the teams once again traded the final dozen points.
Despite being down 2-0, Cleveland wasn’t about to throw in the towel, and raced out to a 9-2 edge to start Game 3. However, once again Ooltewah battled back to even the score at 13-all. After six more ties, including 21-21, the Lady Owls finished out the match with the final four points.
“It’s sad we lost and our season is over, but this has been one of the best seasons we’ve had in a while,” declared coach Patricia Flowers, whose Lady Raiders finished with a 24-22 record. “We’ve had so many big moments this year. We beat some very good teams along the way. All the girls are really close and the great news is they will all be back next year, except Jessica (Murray).”
“Jessica had a great senior season and is a tremendous role model for our other players,” Flowers praised. “She is a very versatile player who was able to play all over the court.”
Murray capped her high school career with 15 service receptions, 10 digs and a pair of kills.
Langford finished with 19 kills and a block, while freshman setter Kellee Geren handed out 23 assists and had 15 service winners and seven digs.
Libero Eva Wilhelm collected 24 service receptions and 21 digs in the battle, with Clements adding 11 digs and a trio of aces.
Kayla Lee posted nine digs and eight receptions for the Lady Raiders, while Cassie Hale had a half dozen kills.
“Ooltewah is a great team with great, experienced coaches,” coach Flowers remarked. “The sad thing is we played Ooltewah three times this year and they still haven’t seen what we are capable to doing. For some reason we had a mental block when we played them.”
The semifinal loss marks just the second time in Flowers’ 10-year coaching career that her Lady Raiders have not finished first or second in the district and earned a region tournament berth.
All-District 5-AAA Team
Co-MVPs: Kayla Arp and Brooke Copeland (BC); All-District: Rebecca Reuter (BC); Marissa Langford, Eva Wilhelm (CHS); Taylor Pruett, Bristol Snider (WV); Kelsey Chernak, Leondra Barrett, Karly Newman (Ool); Alex Schafer, Hannah Robertson, Laura Jenkins (SD); Alexis Neal, Emily Matthews (Rhea); Rachel Burke (MC). Honorable mentions: Brianna Howard (BC); Jessica Murray (CHS); Eryn Walker, Abby Campbell (WV); Izabela Zdunek (Ool), Tori Johnson (MC).