CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- No matter how exciting Wednesday night's District 5-AAA volleyball championship match turns out to be, it will have a hard time topping Tuesday's second semifinal.
After Ooltewah advanced to the final with a 3-0 victory over Cleveland, tournament host Bradley Central then squared off against Soddy-Daisy, a team the Bearettes had split with during the regular season. After losing five match points in a fourth-set defeat, Bradley recovered to win the fifth, finishing off a 3-2 victory that puts coach Christy McElhaney's team in the district final for the first time since 2007.
"We just seem to play better at home," McElhaney said. "Even when we're behind, we just play with a little more confidence, and I think that gave us an edge tonight. All we had to do was finish, but we kept letting them back in it. We've got to work harder at finishing. We can't let Ooltewah hang around tomorrow night."
Soddy-Daisy pulled away late to take a 25-19 victory in the first set of Tuesday's semifinal, but the Bearettes responded in the second. They led 20-15 before Soddy-Daisy rallied to within 20-19, but Bradley then scored the next five points, the last two on aces from Kayla Arp.
The third set featured seven ties, the last of which came at 19-19 before Bradley Central again finished out the game with a 25-23 win. Soddy-Daisy maintained a slim lead throughout the early part of the fourth set, and extended the margin to 17-11 on a block from Haley Reynolds, who finished with six. After rallying to within 21-17 on a kill from Brooke Copeland, the Bearettes put together a 6-1 run that included four more kills and a block from Copeland.
Her dominant night, which ended with 30 kills, continued with hits that gave Bradley match points at 24-23, 25-24, and 28-27. In between, the Bearettes' Rebecca Reuter had shots to give her team the opportunity to take the win at 26-25 and 27-26, but somehow, Soddy-Daisy managed to fight off each one.
The Lady Trojans were finally able to string points together when Alex Schafer's hit tied it at 28, and Rachel Hargis followed with an ace. A side out secured the thrilling 30-28 victory, but Soddy-Daisy was unable to carry the momentum over into the fifth set.
Bradley took a 7-3 lead on a kill from Copeland, and although the Lady Trojans rallied to within 9-7 and then to 12-10, back-to-back kills from Reuter finished off a 15-10 win that put the Bearettes (27-12) in the district final.
"It took a lot of effort and a lot of emotion to play under that kind of pressure," Soddy-Daisy coach Lorri Johnson said. "We showed some maturity in winning that fourth set, but then we got off to a slow start in game five, and you can't do that. We just didn't finish it."
The Lady Trojans end the year 32-19, but with five sophomores in the lineup, Johnson expects her team's future to be bright. Schafer finished with 20 kills and 18 digs for Soddy-Daisy, while Chloe Mitchell made 28 assists.
Leondra Barrett's 13 kills led Ooltewah, now 31-14, and Isabela Zdunek's night included seven kills, nine digs, four assists, three aces and a block. The Lady Owls took the first set 25-17 against Cleveland, but had to rally to earn wins in the next two. The Lady Owls pulled away to take a 25-20 victory in the second set, and then overcame a seven-point deficit in the third.
Trailing 9-2, coach Elaine Peigen called timeout, then watched her team respond with three consecutive kills from Barrett. After tying it at 13 on Karly Newman's kill, the Lady Owls traded leads with Cleveland until securing it for good on a tip from Barrett that made it 23-21. A Cleveland error and another Barrett kill clinched the win at 25-21 and put Ooltewah in Wednesday's championship match.
"I thought we played really well," Peigen said. "Cleveland is one of the most improved teams we've seen this year, but we made the adjustments we needed to. The one thing I wasn't pleased with was the number of serves we missed, but overall it was a great team effort. I think we played a very smart match tonight, and our hitters placed the ball very well."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com
Sloan Sullivan - 5 kills, 10 digs, 3 points
Kelsey Chernak - 5 kills, 25 assists, 1 ace, 8 digs, 3 points
Karly Newman - 6 kills, 1 ace, 9 digs, 1 block, 9 points
Izabela Zdunek - 7 kills, 4 assists, 3 aces, 9 digs, 1 block, 6 points
Leondra Barrett - 13 kills, 1 dig, 3 blocks
Courtlyn Ison - 5 kills, 2 blocks
Bethany Spange - 1 ace, 4 digs, 8 points
Josie Cain - 1 kill, 1 ace, 8 digs, 8 points
Bradley Central stats:
Kayla Arp - 37 assists, 3 blocks, 3 kills, 6 digs
Brooke Copeland - 30 kills, 14 digs, 5 blocks
Rebecca Reuter - 17 digs, 14 kills
Rachel Garrett - 18 digs
Chanler Grady - 12 digs
Lisa Duvall - 9 digs
Breanna Howard - 11 digs
Hannah Robertson - 27 digs, 1 ace
Chloe Mitchell - 28 assists, 10 digs, 1 ace
Laura Jenkins - 1 kill, 3 blocks, 3 digs
Haley Reynolds - 5 kills, 6 blocks
Rachel Hargis - 1 ace, 19 digs
Alex Schafer - 20 kills, 3 blocks, 18 digs, 1 ace
Lauren Smith - 25 digs, 9 kills, 1 ace
Karigan Fulghum - 4 kills, 2 assists