Siegel’s volleyball team may have arrived a bit late to Ooltewah’s Edward M. Foster Gymnasium, but the Lady Stars sent a message early on that it was ready to play.
Well, after shaking off a case of first-set jitters, the Lady Owls responded with some intense play of their own.
Siegel, the Region 4-AAA runner-up, steamrolled Ooltewah in the first set only to see the Lady Owls regroup and escape with a hard-earned 25-11, 22-25, 25-20, 22-25, 13-15 victory in Thursday night’s sectional and earn a spot in next week’s TSSAA state tournament.
“I’ve been wanting this (berth in state tourney) since my freshman year,” said senior setter Kelsey Chernak, who had six kills, eight digs, 2.5 blocks and 12 points. “I can’t even believe it. I was crying. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never been to state and we all wanted this really bad.”
The Lady Owls (35-18), the District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA champions, will be making their seventh state tournament appearance under coach Elaine Peigen starting Wednesday in Murfreesboro. Peigen, honored for her 20 years with the program before Thursday’s match, has led the Lady Owls to 11 district and eight region titles, four final fours and one runner-up finish.
“It’s very exciting,” said Peigen, who has a 633-251 record. “Last year we lost in the sectional at Siegel. Our girls were real disappointed then not getting to state. This means a lot when you realize what you’re doing is getting from point A to point B. They’ve worked hard all year and that hard work is paying off.”
The Lady Stars closed their season with a 27-13 record and drenched in tears.
“I’m very disappointed and my heart hurts for my girls, especially to feel a little bit jaded,” Siegel coach Laura Pierce said, struggling to hold back her own tears. “I give Ooltewah a ton of credit. They played well and you could tell they had a lot of fire, but we gave them 35 points on unforced errors and you can’t do that in a sub-state match.
“But my heart breaks when you see points taken away. We lost a point for (a player) standing up on the bench to cheer. I’ve never had that happen before. (The official) said our girls were going on the court. They weren’t. Then she said the girls could stand up, take one step forward and get back. Then, it was the girls can’t stand up at all. That was shocking to me coming in a sub-state match and it was frustrating. I think it’s outrageous we can’t cheer for our team.”
The running feud between Pierce and one female official boiled over in the fifth set with the Lady Stars leading 7-6. Siegel was dealt a red card after a yellow card occurred earlier in the match and penalized penalized a point, tying the set at 7-all.
Ooltewah ran off three straight points – a Siegel shot hit the net, Lady Owls sophomore Courtlyn Ison scored on a block and senior Izabela Zdunek’s shot went off the arm of a Lady Stars player – for a three-point edge.
However, Siegel quickly scored four points for an 11-10 lead, but the set was tied at 13-all on Lady Stars sophomore Tori Simmons’ kill.
Ooltewah, which rallied from a 24-18 deficit to win the third set against Bradley Central, 26-24, and eventually claim the Region 3-AAA title three sets to one, got a go-ahead kill from senior Leondra Barrett and Siegel’s Simmons sent a hard-hit kill out on the side to clinch the state tournament berth for the Lady Owls, much to the delight of a boisterous partisan crowd.
“I give (Siegel) props,” said Barrett, who had 16 kills, one dig and five blocks. “I don’t think we’ve played a tougher match this year. They’re good. We’re good. We really had to fight for this. We gave it everything we had to get to state.”
Actually, Lady Owls reached down to their souls to get back on track and battle the Lady Stars after that first set.
“You couldn’t drop your head, you couldn’t let go, you had to fight all the time,” said Ison, who finished with one kill and nine blocks. “It’s really cool that we’re going to state. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Siegel, which arrived at the school at 6:30 p.m. – the match was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. – and started warm-up drills two minutes later, dominated the first set by zipping into leads of 10-4, 17-8 and 20-11 before eventually winning by 14 points.
“They let us know we had to work hard because it wasn’t going to be handed to us,” Chernak said.
After the first-set thrashing, the Lady Owls found their footing in the second set and took their first lead of the night at 15-14. With the set tied at 19-all, they outscored the Lady Stars, 6-3, down the stretch for the win.
“We were very much jittery,” Peigen said, “and that surprised me a little bit. They run a very fast offense and when they get in a groove you have to get them out of it or they’ll keep scoring points.
“Our girls have a lot of pride and integrity, every one of them. They played their hearts out and played a great match against a great team.”
From a tie at 16 in set three Siegel outscored Ooltewah, 9-4, to take a 2-1 lead in sets.
In a must-win fourth set, Ooltewah got off to a shaky lead, moved ahead by 15-10 and then 21-13 when a Siegel shot found the net. Ooltewah edged closer to the win when Ison blocked a shot by Siegel’s powerful junior hitter Carlton Gay to give the Lady Owls a 23-19 advantage.
Ooltewah closed out the Lady Stars on a monster slam by Barrett, who was coming off a marvelous performance that earned her the Region 3-AAA tournament’s most valuable player award.
That set the stage for the nail-biting fifth set and a ticket to Murfreesboro.
Ooltewah punched it.
Sloan Sullivan – 3 kills, 16 digs, 1.5 blocks, 4 points.
Kelsey Chernak – 6 kills, 8 digs, 2.5 blocks, 12 points.
Karly Newman – 3 kills, eight digs, 2.5 blocks, five points.
Izabela Zdunek – 6 kills, 14 digs, 2 blocks, 2 points.
Leondra Barrett – 16 kills, 1 dig, five blocks.
Courtlyn Ison – 1 kill, 9 blocks.
Bethany Spange – 13 digs, 14 points, 1 ace.
Josie Cain – 12 digs, 1 point.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)