OOLTEWAH — All three Bradley County teams were involved in exciting five-set matches in Monday’s opening round of the District 5-AAA Volleyball Tournament, but only one caught fire at the right time.
In a battle of the No. 4 and 5 seeds, Cleveland High senior Marissa Langford dominated the tie-breaker with nine of her 33 kills coming in the deciding set to give the Lady Raiders a 3-2 victory over archrival Bradley Central.
“Marissa (Langford) had a great weekend in the tournament this weekend, and carried that over to tonight,” praised Cleveland head coach Patricia Flowers. “She wasn’t going to let us lose this match. She was determined we were going to advance.”
Meanwhile, sixth-seeded Walker Valley pushed 2012 state tournament participant East Hamilton to a fifth set for the second time in a week, but saw the No. 3 seed rally from a 10-8 deficit to score the final seven points of the match.
“I said it before, this district is a war zone. You better be ready to play each time you go out on the court,” declared Lady Hurricane coach Kristy Lenoir. “Walker Valley gave us a great fight and put us in a corner, but our girls showed a lot of character and fought back.”
The victories advance Cleveland (21-21) and East Hamilton (25-16) to tonight’s semifinal matches, with not only a spot in Wednesday’s championship, but a berth into the Region 3-AAA Tournament on the line.
The Lady Raiders will square off against tournament host and top-seeded Ooltewah (33-8, 12-0 in district play this season) in this evening’s opening match at 6 p.m. The Lady Hurricanes will tangle with second-seeded Soddy-Daisy (40-16), which shut out No. 7 seed McMinn County 3-0 in Monday’s other opening round match.
Monday’s Bradley-Cleveland match was a typical tooth-and-nail tangle between the longtime rivals, with the Bearettes (21-21) taking the first and fourth sets to force a tie-breaker.
Bradley raced out to a 12-5 advantage to open the first set before the Lady Raiders fought back to even the score at 18-all and 19-all before the Bearettes scored six of the final eight points for the 25-21 win.
The second set was just the opposite as the girls in Blue-and-Gray led 10-4, 15-7 and 19-9 before putting the lid on with a 6-3 spurt for a double-digit 25-15 win to even the match.
With seven lead changes and nine ties, the third set proved to be the most exciting. With the score knotted at 23-all, Cleveland was able to pull out the victory when Langford and Aneisha Barber blasted back-to-back kills for the 25-23 win.
Faced with elimination, Bradley responded by breaking open a fourth set that started with a half dozen ties in the first 20 points. With the game knotted at 10 points apiece, the Bearettes edged ahead 13-10, 15-12 and 18-14, before the Lady Raiders trimmed the difference to just two points. The Black-and-Gold pulled away with a 4-0 run and then evened the match by scoring the final three points for the 25-28 win.
The two old rivals swapped the first two points of the tie-breaker but then Langford caught fire with five kills in a nine-point swing behind the serving of classmates Eva Wilhelm.
After Bradley got the serve on an unforced error, Cleveland setter Kellee Geren got the serve back with a dink and then stepped behind the back line to serve up three straight winners, all of which Langford blasted down.
A kill by sophomore Natalie Jennings turned out to be the final point of the season for the Bearettes, with Langford slamming home the final winner of the match for a 15-13 tally in the tiebreaker.
“Anytime we play Bradley, we expect a four or five-set match,” declared Coach Flowers. “It usually comes down to who makes less errors. The last time we met (Sept. 23), we were up 10-5 in the tiebreaker and they came back to win. We weren’t going to let that happen again tonight.”
Langford added 16 digs and 3 1/2 blocks to her strong offensive effort, while Wilhelm dug out 35 shots and served up four aces. Geren handed out 39 assists, had four aces and dug out a dozen shots, while KK Clements helped out with 15 digs and a trio of aces.
Kayla Lee had 11 digs in the victory, while Addie Strode added seven digs and four aces, plus Lauren Lee served up three aces.
“We are peaking at the right time,” proclaimed Coach Flowers. “We had a great weekend in Franklin (finishing second in the Silver division of the Mid-Tenn Classic). We played better than we have all season. Now we have a very tough challenge (facing Ooltewah) and we’ll do our best not to have our season end.”
“It’s always an emotional game when we play Cleveland,” remarked Bearette head coach Christie McElhaney. “We started off strong and then lost the next two sets but didn’t get rattled and forced a fifth set. They (Cleveland) got the momentum there in the tiebreaker and we just couldn’t get it back.”
Senior “Twin Towers” Brooke Copeland and Rebbecca Reuter paced the Bradley effort. Copeland collected 19 digs, 16 kills, three blocks and a trio of aces. Reuter finished with 13 kills, 5 1/2 blocks and three digs.
Julia Gaither and Chanler Grady garnered 27 digs apiece, while Lisa Duvall dug out 13 shots. Setters McKenna Stinnett and Halle Hughes handed out 22 and 16 assists respectively, with Stinnett also digging out nine shots and Hughes seven, plus serving a pair of aces. Jennings had 11 kills and a trio of blocks in the effort.
In the second match of the evening, Walker Valley put East Hamilton on the ropes in a hurry, racing out to 6-2 and 10-5 advantage. The Lady Hurricanes were able to close the gap a little at 13-10, but that was as close as they would come, as the Lady Mustangs galloped away with eight of the final 11 points for a 25-16 win.
Stunned, the district newcomers turned up the storm in the second set and quickly blew to a 14-3 lead, then coasted to a 25-10 final to even the match.
The third set saw the teams swap the lead four times and the score tied the same amount in the first 15 points before East Hamilton went on another strong run, scoring 10 of the next dozen points. The girls from Collegedale finished off the set with a 6-2 spurt for a 25-13 tally.
Not willing to concede, Walker Valley scored five of the first seven points of set No. 4, but a 6-0 run gave the lead back to the girls in Green-and-Black. Still determined, Coach Judy Pruett’s “Fillies” bolted back into the lead with a 9-0 run of their own behind the serves of Katelin Scoggins.
With the Lady Mustangs up 20-16, East Hamilton showed why it has been to the last two state tournaments with a 7-1 rally to retake the advantage. After Coach Pruett called a timeout to stem the tide, her squad responded with senior Baylee Boen putting down four winners (three kills and a push) in the 5-1 run for a 26-24 win to force the tiebreaker.
In the deciding set, the lead changed hands seven times in the first 18 points, with four missed serves and a trio of unforced errors by the Lady Mustangs accounting for all but one of the East Hamilton points.
With Walker Valley up 10-8, coach Lenoir used a timeout of her own to regroup her troops and the move worked, as the Lady Hurricanes brought the eye of the Hurricane for the final seven points and a 15-10 win.
“I told the girls in the timeout that our season was on the line. All the work we did in the summer. All the time and effort we had put in was about to end unless we did something,” explained Lenoir. “They came out with no fear, determination and focused on not letting it end.”
The coach’s daughter, Emma Lenoir, who was named the district co-player of the year along with Ooltewah’s Courtlyn Ison, led the Storm with 21 kill, 22 digs, 14 assists and two aces.
Coach Pruett’s daughter, Taylor, also had a strong effort with 13 kills, 11 digs and 10 receptions, while Boen finished with 13 kills as well, plus nine digs, seven receptions, a pair of aces and a block.
Ashlyn Flock handed out 17 assists, dug out 11 shots and served up three aces for the Lady Mustangs, while Scoggins tallied 15 receptions and a half dozen digs.
Senior Rachel Lawhorn capped her high school career with nine kills and a block, while Abby Campbell dished off a dozen assists and had five digs. Senior Alex Rominger finished with 10 receptions, a half dozen digs and an ace.
“We played great in the first game, but then our passing broke down some,” commented coach Pruett after her team finished the season at 18-18. “We played well enough to win and we fought hard, but they (EH) just pulled away at the end.”
“Baylee (Boen) played the best match she’s had since coming back the second time (from an ankle injury),” the coach praised. “The Senior Night game against Soddy was her first match back, and that was just last week.”
Along with Co-Players of the Year Lenoir and Isom, the All-District 5-AAA Team included: Langford, Geren, Copeland, Reuter, Pruett and Lawhorn, as well as Ooltewah’s Sloan Sullivan and Hanna Matthews, Soddy-Daisy’s Haley Reynolds, Hannah Robertson and Chloe Mitchell, East Hamilton’s Briley Considine and Sydney Harris, plus Rachel Burke from McMinn County.
The honorable mentions were: Kayla Lee and Wilhelm (CHS), Julia Gaither (BCHS), Josie Cain and Alex Biro (OHS), Lauren Smith (SD) and Haley Hambrick ( MCHS).