At a bleak moment of the match Tuesday night, Ooltewah’s volleyball team stunningly turned misery to joy and swung the momentum its way in Edward M. Foster Gymnasium.
On the brink of going down 2-1 in the best-of-five match, Ooltewah miraculously reeled off eight straight points to win the set and went on to beat Bradley Central 22-25, 25-11, 26-24, 25-17 and capture the Region 3-AAA championship behind the sterling play of senior Leondra Barrett.
The Lady Owls (34-18), who also defeated the Bearettes for the District 5-AAA title last week, trailed 24-18 in the critical third set.
But Barrett scored six of the next eight points and Ooltewah escaped to go ahead 2-1. The Lady Owls took the momentum gained from that comeback to win the fourth set and nail down the region title.
“I feel very fortunate to get out of that (third set) with a win,” Ooltewah coach Elaine Peigen said. “If the other team has 24 points and you’re down by eight, the girls have to work really hard to get a win. And we did. Our overall team effort throughout the match was outstanding. I was very proud of Leondra’s performance, but it was really a team effort.”
With the 3-1 win over Bradley – it was the fifth time the two teams played this season and Ooltewah won three matches – the Lady Owls advanced to Thursday’s Sectional and will host Region 4-AAA runner-up Siegel at 7 p.m.
Siegel, which eliminated Ooltewah from last year’s postseason, lost to Columbia 25-18, 25-15, 25-20 in the Region 4-AAA final on Tuesday. Bradley Central (29-14) will travel to Columbia on Thursday.
Barrett, the Region 3-AAA tournament Most Valuable Player, was masterful. Her net play netted four straight points to close the deficit to 24-22 in the third game and when a Bradley shot strayed past the end line, the Lady Owls were within one point.
Then Barrett, who was also selected to the all-district team, delivered another of her team-high 12 kills, to tie the game. After that, she turned a Bradley shot into a point-scoring block to put the Lady Owls ahead for the first time in the set.
Ooltewah senior Izabela Zdnuek’s kill shot that a Bradley player returned into the net clinched the win.
“At that moment in the third (set) when we were down by eight, sure I got hot but so were my girls,” Barrett said. “They were passing to me and I made some plays. When my center, Kelsey Chernak, sees that I’m getting kill after kill after kill, she’s going to get the ball to me.”
After Game 3, the Lady Owls were pumped.
The Bearettes were shocked.
“Some of us tried to keep everybody up,” Bradley junior Brooke Copeland said, “but we just couldn’t get the momentum back. “We sometimes tend to get down when things start to get rough. It was a tough game to lose. All we needed was one point.”
Peigen was asked if she thought the pivotal rally took something out of the Bearettes.
“Of course, I do,” Peigen said. “When you’re leading and at 24, you automatically think you’re going to win it, so I’m sure the lost something after that game.”
Bradley coach Christie McElhaney didn’t disagree.
“That was something that came back to bite us,” she said. “As coaches we’ve preached all year that if you get ahead finish it, and we didn’t do that. We started showing a little emotion, which we shouldn’t have done. Some people got rattled and we kind of lost our focus. Before you know it, they were up and point and then win the match.
“Clearly, that was the turning point for us. We still had a little fight in that fourth game, but that third game was a big letdown for us. At the end of the night they wanted those points more than we did.”
Ironically, the Bearettes made a similar comeback in their region semifinal victory over Cookeville on Monday.
“We were down 16-22 in the third and came back to win 26-24 (to close out the match),” McElhaney said. “We should have known from our own experience that (Ooltewah coming back) was a possibility. No matter how far you’re down you don’t give up until the final whistle. We kind of let up.”
The two teams battled toe-to-toe in the fourth set and the Bearettes pulled to within 13-11 on Copeland’s kill, one of a match-high 20 for the Bradley standout.
A few minutes later, Ooltewah had stretched its lead to 20-14. After another Copeland kill made the score 22-17, Ooltewah sophomore Courtlyn Ison scored on a kill, Copeland’s shot went sideout and the Lady Owls’ Karly Newman slammed a kill off a Bradley player to clinch the win and match.
“They were fighters and we were fighters,” Barrett said. “It just shows that we fought the most and wanted it the most. We didn’t fold under pressure, we played together and if we made a mistake we got over it because we wanted this game.”
In the first set, Ooltewah built a 13-7 lead only to see Bradley tie it at 17-17 when a Lady Owl serve found the net. The Bearettes took a 20-19 lead on Rebecca Reuter’s service point.
The set was still tied at 22-all when the Bearettes ran off three straight points for the victory.
The district and region titles were a nice take-home prizes for the Lady Owls.
“It feels amazing how we have come together as a team,” Barrett said. “And for me to win the MVP, well, that’s amazing, too. I was surprised and wasn’t expecting that. But it feels really good.”
Peigen said she’s proud of the district and region championships and to grab the host role for Thursday’s Sectional.
“It’s been a couple of years since we won the district and regional,” she said. “And 2009 was the last time we’ve been to state. Last year we got put out in the Sectional by Siegel when we were region runner-up. So, it’s very nice to be on top and be able to play at home.”
Sloan Sullivan: 5 kills, 2 assists, 11 digs
Kelsey Chernak: 4 kills, 31 assists, 2 aces, 16 digs, 1 block;
Karly Newman: 6 kills, 14 digs;
Izabela Zdnuck: 8 kills, 4 assists, 2 aces, 10 digs, 3.5 blocks;
Leondra Barrett: 12 kills, 1 dig, 8.5 blocks;
Courtlyn Ison: 5 kills, 3.5 blocks;
Bethany Spange: 2 aces, 7 digs; Jose Cain: 1 ace, 9 digs.
Bradley Central Stats
Kayla Arp: 13 digs, 32 assists, 5 kills;
Rebecca Reuter: 1 ace, 11 digs, 14 kills, 6 service points;
Brooke Copeland: 20 kills, 2 blocks, 4 points, 2 aces, 16 digs;
Lisa Duvall: 3 service points, 1 ace, 8 digs, 1 kill, 1 block;
Chanler Grady: 10 points, 4 aces, 6 digs.
Region 3-AAA All-Tournament Team
Ooltewah – Leondra Barrett (MVP), Karly Newman, Kelsey Chernak, Josie Cain, Izabela Zdunek.
Bradley Central – Rebecca Reuters, Brooke Copeland, Lisa Duvall, Kayla Arp.
Cookeville – Shelby Enochs, Madison Espinosa.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)