After doing the “sideline shuffle” for over an hour, Bradley Central volleyball coach Christie McElhaney breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Tuesday night’s sweep of McMinn County was over.
“I’m glad to get this first one over. It’s always hectic to get a new season started,” she said after the 25-8, 25-6, 25-10 District 5-AAA season opening victory.
“The girls have worked really hard in the preseason and it showed tonight.”
“I’m proud of the way they have bonded together the last few weeks. They are having fun while they are playing,” Coach McElhaney commented. “This is the most selfless group I’ve had in a long time. It’s good to watch how well they play together.”
While the easy victory over a McMinn County squad that hasn’t won a district match in more than six years is nice, the veteran Bearette coach knows there are tougher tests ahead.
“We go to Soddy-Daisy Thursday. They are always tough,” she related. “We played them twice during the summer and they really improved from the first match to the second.”
“Our district is really tough. It really depends on who brings their ‘A’ game on a particular night as to who is going to win,” Coach McElhaney assessed. “We’ve played everybody in the district this summer, except for Walker Valley, and we feel like we can compete with all of them. Our girls’ goal is to fight for the district championship.”
With the graduation of 6-foot-2 “Twin Towers” Rebecca Reuter and Brooke Copeland, a two-time all-state performer, the Bearettes are running a different kind of scheme this season.
“With Rebecca and Brooke the last four years, we had a tendency to depend on them too much,” Coach McElhaney commented. “They are great players, and we had some other very good players with them, but we looked to them to do most everything.”
“This year we are running a three-middle system with three setters, and the girls really like it,” she explained. “We have a rotation of 12 girls we can use, with several of them able to play multiple positions.
“We have a good group of seniors that are providing great leadership and mentoring the young players,” praised Coach McElhaney. “We have five returning starters and two others that were part of our rotation and saw a lot of court time.”
Senior setters Chanler Grady and McKenna Stinnett are returning starters, as are senior outside hitter Lisa Duvall, juniors Julia Gaither and Natalie Jennings. Junior Monica Johnson and sophomore Halle Hughes were part of the Bearette rotation last season as well.
“We also have seniors Noa Williams, who will be coming off the bench for us as well as Kateland West, who set out last year after transfering in (from Walker Valley),” McElhaney explained. “Reagan Morrison, Emma Kate Brown and Savannah Carroll are just sophomores, plus junior Allison Burger will see time with the varsity, while (juniors) Gabby Ghassedi and BreeLee Arms are our liberos.”
After facing the Lady Trojans in a tough road test Thursday, the Black-and-Gold will host the annual Bradley Bash Friday and Saturday.
“This is the 10th or 11th year we’ve done the Bash. It’s a good way to start off the season and get to play seven or eight matches against some very good teams,” related McElhaney.
This year’s event brings nine varsity and five JV teams to Jim Smiddy Arena.
In the varsity action, Bradley will play in Pool A along with Boyd-Buchanan, Chattanooga Central, Stone Memorial and South Doyle (Knoxville). Pool B will include Cookeville, Rhea County, Chattanooga Christian and Blackman.
Along with the hosts, JV teams from Cookeville, CCS, Blackman and Boyd-Buchanan will also participate.
Friday evening and Saturday morning will consist of round-robin pool play before the teams are seeded for a single-elimination tournament Saturday afternoon. The event’s semifinal and championship matches will start at 7 and 8:15 that evening.
Bradley had very little trouble with McMinn County Tuesday, putting the first four points on the scoreboard and trailing just twice (1-0 and 2-1 to begin the second game) the entire evening.
After building a 13-4 advantage in the opener, Grady served up 11 straight winners, including five aces, to seal the 25-8 victory.
The Bearettes broke open the second game early on with a Duvall ace, sparking four straight points before Stinnett used three aces in the first four points of a 12-0 run. Gaither finished off the 25-6 win with the final half dozen service points.
Stinnett once again smoked back-to-back aces as Bradley went up 9-2 in the final game. Although the girls from Athens trimmed the difference to 11-7, Williams and Carroll served up four straight winners apiece, including an ace to put the match out of reach. Stinnett capped off the victory with the 20th Bearette ace of the evening.
Stinnett blasted eight aces, handed out a half dozen assists and had a pair of digs, while Grady had five serves that couldn’t be returned, plus gave out three assists and had two digs.
Duvall power served five aces, downed a trio of kills, dug out three shots, had a block and an assist. Gaither helped out with 10 digs, four kills, a block, an assist and an ace.
Morrison had a trio of digs and a pair of kills, with libero Ghassedi digging out 10 Lady Cherokee shots. Jennings powered three kills, while Johnson added a pair, a block and had a couple of push shot winners.