Last year was a record-breaking experience for the Red Bank volleyball team.
They set a new standard for the number of wins in a season, but it all ended on a sour note with a third-place finish in the State tournament.
This fall, the Lady Lions again raised the bar for number of wins with 56. But unlike 2008, Red Bank finished the year with a bang and a state championship trophy as well.
Every high school athletic team has the same goal at the start and that's to win a state title.
Unfortunately, very few successfully fulfill those dreams.
But with coach Christel Brooks at the helm, the Lady Lions breezed to District, Region and Sectional championships before going to Murfreesboro last week for the final tournament of the season.
The Lady Lions won their first match with ease before stumbling in the second round against Page.
Red Bank had a 2-0 lead in the best of three match before Page rallied to win the final three games, sending the Lady Lions to the losers' bracket.
There are six seniors on this year's Red Bank team. They made the decision right then that an early loss to Page wasn't going to prevent them from winning.
Revenge can be real sweet at times, but in particular on Friday afternoon with Red Bank got another chance against the Lady Patriots.
This time the results were different as the Lady Lions whipped Page the second time around to conclude an incredible season.
The Lady Lions have a lot of talented players on their team, but none any more valuable than Courtney Lawson.
She was voted the most valuable player in the district, region and state tournaments as she brought talent, energy and enthusiasm to the court every time the ball was put into play.
Appropriately, she was at the service line when the final point was scored to secure the state title.
"It would have been awesome to end it with an ace, but I just wanted to make sure that I got the ball in bounds," Lawson said one afternoon last week.
"Winning the state was an indescribable feeling. Just an unreal experience. After that first loss to Page, we knew we'd have to work for it.
"We knew we had to stay calm and just play our game. We knew we had it in the last game. I couldn't ask for a better senior year," Lawson added.
Bailey Lyness is another senior and one of the most versatile players on the team. In addition to volleyball, she's a crackerjack in basketball and softball.
Regardless of the situation, Bailey never let her emotions get the best of her. If anything, tense situations just made her play with an even greater determination to succeed.
Bailey's grandmother passed away early in the season and the scrappy senior played a match at Soddy Daisy on the afternoon following the funeral.
Red Bank lost the first two games that day, but rallied to win the next three. Lyness felt like that may have been the turning point in the season for her.
"Winning the state means so much to me. I couldn't help but think about my grandmother. She's always been so supportive of me and I'm sure she was with us the whole way," Lyness explained in a quiet way.
"Thursday was a rough day when we lost to Page. I guess we had to do it the hard way. After we lost to Page, they thought they were going to beat us on Friday, but we knew that wasn't going to happen.
"I'm not sure anything can top that," she said, breaking into a smile when thinking back on that final match.
Becca Paturalski is best friends with Lawson. When they came home on Friday, they watched the tape of the championship match.
Becca was another who had a hard time describing just what it meant to finally realize a dream like winning a state title.
"I don't think we've ever wanted anything any more than that. That third game on Friday against Page was pivotal. We had each won one game at that point, but we could see defeat in their eyes after the third game.
"Even after we lost to them on Thursday, nobody got down. We are all close friends and that loss drew us even closer. That was the best experience of my life. I've never been so happy," Paturalski nodded.
Savannah Smith is another senior who was thrilled to be part of such a memorable experience.
"I was excited from day one of the state tournament. I had faith in our team the whole time and I knew we could win it as we all had the same goal.
"We basically beat ourselves the first time, but we had all the confidence in the world that we could beat them on Friday. It was a dream come true for me," Smith expressed.
Kamron Adkins is a senior and perhaps the most underrated hitter on the team.
While teammate Kalyn Helton gets most of the credit for dominant play at the net, Adkins is a southpaw who can hit as hard as anyone. When she connects, the ball goes cross-court and virtually impossible to return.
She too was thrilled with the final results.
"I don't think it's actually hit us yet. Winning a state title is a lot bigger than I thought.
"When we lost to Page, we realized we'd have to play harder. The state championship match on Friday was the right time to do just that," Adkins said.
Ashley Reed is another senior who refused to be denied, even when the chips were down following Thursday's loss.
"It was so much fun, just an amazing experience. That match on Friday was the most important match of my life, but we enjoyed sweet revenge.
"We had to play our hearts out to win, but losing on Thursday made us realize we had to work hard to win," Reed said.
Helton is a junior who hits the ball as hard as anyone around. She's also the oldest daughter of coach Brooks.
"It was so nice to share that experience with my mom. Losing to Page helped us and it made us want to win even more.
"Everyone did their part. We weren't satisfied until we won it all. It will be tough replacing all of these seniors," Helton suggested.
Amy Metcalf is another junior who quietly played a vital role in Red Bank's success.
"Winning was nothing like anything I could ever imagine. Words just can't describe it. Losing wasn't a bad thing. I had no doubt that we would come back and beat them," Metcalf said.
Danielle Moore is a sophomore and another who will be counted on next year.
"We came together as we knew what we wanted. We had to win one game at a time, but that was the greatest feeling in the world. I think we learned from our mistakes on Thursday.
"Winning a state title was so cool. Our dream came true as we accomplished our goal," Moore said.
This is Brooks' eighth season as a head coach. She's been at Red Bank the last two years after spending the first six at Boyd-Buchanan, including 2004 when she took the Lady Bucs to the state for the first time.
She's led her teams to great things in the past, but winning a state title may top the list. Appropriately, it was her 300th win as a head coach.
"I've watched these girls work so hard all year. Winning the state was the most rewarding thing I've ever been part of," Brooks said.
"We felt like we let the first match against Page slip away as we just didn't execute at crucial times.
"It meant a lot to beat them in the finals. Us winning game three really took a lot out of them, but what a great ending to our season.
"We would have been disappointed with anything less than a title, but we told them to give all they had. That first loss to Page hurt a lot as we had an emotional letdown, but we learned and grew from our losses.
"What a memorable experience for everyone associated with Red Bank volleyball," Brooks concluded.
It will be tough for the Lady Lions to top in 2010 what they accomplished in 2009.
Nobody is worried about that now as they're just enjoying their most recent tournament title.
It just turns out it's the biggest one of the season.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)