Ooltewah stoned Stone Memorial, 3-0, Monday night in the Region 3-AAA volleyball tournament semifinal on the Lady Owls’ home court.
Then, Soddy-Daisy followed suit by beating Cookeville, although it wasn’t easy by any means. The Lady Trojans were extended by the District 6-AAA champion Lady Cavaliers to five sets before winning, 3-2.
Ooltewah won 25-8, 25-9, 25-12.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Lady Owls coach Elaine Peigen said. “They came ready to play. As a coach, you’re biggest fear coming in is taking somebody for granted, and we did not do that.”
Soddy-Daisy won 25-21, 21-25, 25-19, 16-25, 15-8.
“We need to expect a five-game match (Tuesday),” Lady Trojans coach Lorri Johnson said. “But to win one tonight over Cookeville, which had seven seniors, is huge. I knew Cookeville wasn’t going to be easy. But we’re in the Sweet 16 now and, frankly, I’ll take that in almost any year.”
Monday’s win sets up an all-District 5-AAA regional championship matchup – it pits two teams with a combined 84 victories – at 6:30 p.m. at Ooltewah High School’s Ed Foster Gymnasium.
In addition to the title showdown, the Lady Owls (42-10) and Lady Trojans (42-17) also secured berths in the sectionals on Thursday. Tuesday’s winner will host a sectional game and the loser hits the road.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Peigen said. “We didn’t have to beat them during the regular season. We didn’t have to beat them in the district tournament. A win (Wednesday) would be sweet because we would host a sectional game and that’s our goal.
“We want to see how much we’ve improved and see if we can take them down.”
The Lady Owls have beaten the Lady Trojans four times this season – twice during the regular season, once in the Choo Choo tournament semifinals, and in the District 5-AAA tournament championship match. The combined scores were 11-5, with one five-set affair on Sept. 12.
Only one other team pushed Ooltewah to five sets, that being Signal Mountain on Aug. 26.
The Lady Owls, who have won 10 of their last 12 matches, got off to a dominating start against Stone Memorial (32-12). They scored the first eight points of the first set, built the margin to 19-3 with an 8-0 run and finished the 25-8 dismantling on an unforced error by the Lady Panthers.
“We had to play our hardest no matter what the other team does,” said Courtlyn Ison, the district tournament’s most valuable player. “We played consistently pretty well and I think they kind of gave up at the end.”
Ooltewah had an 11-2 spurt in the second set, opening a 13-4 lead on back-to-back Lady Panther miscues. The spree eventually reached 18-4 and a winning shot by Sloan Sullivan and an Alex Biro kill ended it for the Lady Owls.
In the third set, Ooltewah had an 8-3 lead but Stone Memorial scored three straight points, all coming on Lady Owl miscues. That was the only time the Lady Panthers managed more than two consecutive points in the match.
“They’re good,” Stone Memorial coach Meghan Kunzelman said. “They definitely outplayed us. We needed to play close to a perfect match and didn’t do that.”
With an 11-9 advantage, the Lady Owls outscored the Lady Panthers, 10-1, and opened a 21-10 lead. Ison’s soft-touch shot on the baseline put up the final point of the match.
Ison finished with nine kills, three digs and 4.5 blocks.
“(Jessica Bertram) was a pretty good player,” Ison said. “She could hit it hard and so could a few others over there, but they were hitting balls right at us. They weren’t cutting around us as much and that’s the reason we got so many blocks.
“Our serving was great, our passing awesome and our sets were really good. Not only did we hit smart, but we hit hard.”
Bertram, a 5-foot-10-inch senior outside hitter, broke her nose diving for a ricochet ball in the final set, but continued to play it out.
In the end, the match belonged to the Lady Owls, who are trying to make their second straight appearance in the state tournament. Monday night was a big step in the right direction for them.
“We had some pep talks in the locker room and about how we needed to stay focused and play our hearts out,” said Sullivan, who had six kills, 15 digs, six aces and one assist. “We wanted to start strong and finish strong. I think we did that.”
The Soddy-Daisy and Cookeville match was an old-fashioned tussle from the get-go.
The Lady Trojans worked into a 15-12 first-set lead, but the Lady Cavaliers (37-12) went on a 7-1 run for a 19-16 lead. Soddy-Daisy broke away from a 20-20 tie to scored five of the final six points – Abby Walker had a kill and Hannah Robertson a service point to close it out.
Cookeville, which has won five consecutive district championships, stormed into a 5-0 lead in the second set, but Soddy-Daisy had a 20-18 advantage after the Lady Cavaliers’ Dani Madison’s kill sailed long. Cookeville outscored the Lady Trojans, 7-1, down the stretch, a span that included five unforced errors by Johnson’s squad.
A 6-1 spurt gave Soddy-Daisy a 15-10 lead in the third set, but Cookeville, taking advantage of opponent miscues, was within 21-19 late. The Lady Trojans, who have won 14 of their last 16 matches, scored the final four points for the win.
Soddy-Daisy couldn’t overcome a slew of mistakes in set four, though.
Five Lady Trojan errors, including two ball-handling miscues, provided Cookeville with a 5-1 lead. The Lady Cavaliers benefitted from three more errors to build an 11-7 advantage.
Sophomore Alex Volker, who twice failed to make the Loftis Middle School volleyball team, but stuck with the sport and made the high school roster last year as a freshman, masterfully blocked a kill shot by Cookeville’s Bailey Cress and Soddy-Daisy trailed 14-10.
Volker also snapped a two-error streak with a kill and pulled the Lady Trojans to within 24-15. But Cookeville quickly won to send the match into a deciding fifth set.
“Point after point and you have to keep playing,” said Walker, clinching her fist during an emotional interview. “You’re thinking this is so hard and maybe you can’t do it. But everybody said we’re OK and that’s what gets you through something like this. Volleyball is such a team sport.”
Soddy-Daisy got a quick 4-1 lead, but a net shot and shot that went long by Karigan Fulghum helped Cookeville tie the score at 5-5. Fulghum later scored a service point for a 9-6 lead. Up 10-7, the Lady Trojans scored four straight points – Walker had two service points and Lauren Smith added a kill – for a 14-7 lead.
Walker finished with 20 digs, eight kills, two aces and one assist. Smith had six aces, 22 digs, two assists and 11 kills.
Cookeville’s Rachel Davidson unleashed a kill that tipped the net and fell in for a winner, but Soddy-Daisy won the match on the next point resulting from a long serve by the Lady Cavaliers.
“We struggled with one rotation on serve-receive all night,” Cookeville coach Jackie Cox said. “We got stuck with that rotation late. But our girls played hard against a good team we knew nothing about coming in.”
The Lady Trojans – Johnson and Peigen scouted the District 6-AAA title match – were simply relieved to be moving on.
“We kept telling ourselves we had to win this,” Walker said. “It’s hard to play loose because you’re so tense in a match like this one. You just have to calm down and play it out. I’m so happy to get to the finals. We want to keep this going. Looking back at the season, knowing how far we’ve come, it gives you cold chills.
After the fourth game I knew we had to bear down and dig deep. This was not going to be our last game. We refused to lose. In the end, we pulled it out.”
Johnson said the Lady Trojans were sloppy with their ball-handling throughout the match and that’s something that will be addressed Tuesday afternoon before leaving campus and heading to Ooltewah.
“We’re going to clean that up with some setting lessons,” she said. “We had some ball-handling issues and we can’t have those against Ooltewah.”
Ooltewah: Sloan Sullivan – 6 kills, 15 digs, 6 aces, 1 assist; Josie Cain – 11 digs, 1 kill; Summer Williams – 3 digs; Bethany Spange – 1 kill 4 digs; Hanna Matthews – 1 kill, 7 digs, 2 aces, 2 assists, 2 blocks; Sidney Killingsworth – 5 kills, 1 block; Alex Biro – 10 kills, 1 dig; Courtlyn Ison – 9 kills, 3 digs, 4.5 blocks; Kailin Higgins – 3 aces.
Stone Memorial: Jessica Bertram – 3 kills, 1 block, 14 digs; Megan Hayes – 3 kills, 1 block; Jacki Livesay – 9 digs.
Soddy-Daisy: Haley Reynolds – 4 kills, 1 block; Hannah Robertson – 23 digs; Chloe Mitchell – 29 assists, 5 kills, 1 block, 2 aces, 12 digs; Lauren Smith – 6 aces, 22 digs, 2 assists, 11 kills; Karigan Fulghum – 3 aces, 17 digs, 1 assists, 2 kills; Abby Walker – 2 aces, 20 digs, 1 assists, 8 kills; Alex Volker – 4 kills, 1 block, 2 digs; Grayson Brown – 1 ace, 3 digs.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)