They played the Region 4-AA volleyball tournament at Signal Mountain Tuesday night, but it could have been called the Taelor Kellum Invitational or simply the Taelor Kellum Show.
The slender junior, who has already committed to play for the University of Florida Lady Gators, played a key role in her team's two wins, but she was as dominant as any player in recent memory in the final set against Notre Dame in the championship match.
Signal Mountain breezed past the Macon County Tigerettes in three straight sets, winning by scores of 25-20, 25-18 and 25-5 in the first semifinal before Notre Dame sent Livingston Academy home on the short end of a 3-1 match as the Lady Irish won by scores of 25-23, 25-18, 9-25 and 25-9.
The Lady Wildcats had entered Tuesday's play as the District 8-AA champions with a record of 34-12, but they were obviously no match for the scrappy Lady Irish.
Then in the championship match, the Lady Eagles proved that last week's district tournament title was no fluke as they prevailed over the Lady Irish for the third time in four meetings, winning by scores of 30-28, 25-9, 16-25 and 25-6.
Signal Mountain will be at home once more on Thursday evening as they will host Region 3-AA runner-up Central in a sectional match while Notre Dame will be on the road again to face 3-AA champion Red Bank.
Kellum made her presence felt in the first match as she finished with 14 kills, five blocks, four aces and three digs, but she was all but unstoppable in the match with Notre Dame as she finished with 28 kills, seven blocks and four digs.
Had there been an all-tournament team chosen, she would have been a unanimous MVP selection.
Needless to say, Signal Mountain coach Jennifer Redman was smiling from ear to ear after her team had won its fourth Region championship in six years and improved to 32-21 for the season.
"That should have been called the Taelor Kellum Show, but thank the Lord she's on my team," Redman said shortly after the final point had been scored.
"We knew that we needed to build a quick lead in that fourth set to quieten the Notre Dame crowd and that's when Amanda Thielges came through with some great serves," Redman continued, noting that the effective junior had 14 straight points as Signal broke from a 1-1 tie to take a commanding 15-1 lead before Notre Dame broke the streak with a kill from Kayle Stone.
"I'm very happy with the way we played, but to see where we are now from where we started is really special. That win in the first set was huge, but we knew before it started that Notre Dame wasn't going to make it easy. It just shows that we can still play good volleyball even when it's a close match," Redman nodded.
Thielges did indeed make things happen from the service line, but Kellum was the straw that stirred the drink as she was solely responsible for 15 of Signal Mountain's first 20 points as she had 13 kills and two blocks during that stretch.
The Lady Eagles were up 20-5 at that point and the match was all but over.
"The good news is that we live to play another day. However, we can't afford to lose another match from here on," said an obviously mentally exhausted Notre Dame coach Ted Hackett after his team's record fell to 15-21 with the setback in that last match.
"We made a lot of unforced errors in the second and fourth sets as they were hitting some good serves and we weren't making good passes. The Kellum girl is very good and has lots of potential for playing at the next level, but she was open a lot and she took advantage of her opportunities," the Lady Irish coach praised the Lady Eagle leader.
"What we need to do is work on our transition game and have a short memory. Signal Mountain has a fantastic team. We've had some really good matches with them this fall. I'm just sorry that tonight's match wasn't closer. I'm a little disappointed with our effort as we failed to execute offensively," Hackett added
Signal Mountain had a chance to rest and regroup during Notre Dame's semifinal match, but the Lady Eagles were firing on all cylinders when the first ball was served.
The Lady Eagles scored four of the first five points and eventually had a seven-point spread at 19-12 following a couple of kills from Kellum.
A couple of unforced errors by the Lady Eagles made it 19-14 before Danika Dorris unleashed six straight service points, including an ace on each end of that streak. The last one gave Notre Dame its first lead at 20-19.
Another kill from Randi Clement extended the Lady Irish' lead to 23-20 before the Lady Eagles could tie it at 23-all.
There were five more ties before back-to-back kills from Kellum gave the hard-earned first set to the Lady Eagles.
Signal Mountain made it 2-0 with an easy 25-9 win in the second set before Notre Dame rebounded for its nine-point win in the third.
But before the Lady Irish had any chance of gaining any more momentum, Kellum took charge as the Lady Eagles cruised to the final set victory.
While Kellum was the leader in both matches, including those 28 kills and seven blocks in the finals, Thielges finished with 33 assists while Aryn Sanders added 30 digs.
Clement topped the Lady Irish with nine kills in the championship match while Ragen Dobson had 24 assists and Dorris 22 digs.
NOTRE DAME COMBINED STATS:
Khadejah Sivels -- 7 aces, 2 kills, 22 digs;
Ragen Dobson -- 1 ace, 56 assists, 14 digs;
Keri Klassen -- 1 ace, 15 digs;
Randi Clement -- 14 kills, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 2 digs;
Tess Scobey -- 7 kills, 2 blocks, 1 dig;
Mallory Hein -- 4 aces, 9 kills, 2 blocks, 1 assist, 10 digs;
Danika Dorris -- 40 digs, 3 aces, 1 kill;
Genna Howard -- 2 kills;
Kayle Stone -- 12 kills, 2 blocks, 1 assist, 8 digs;
Stephanie Bouchard -- 4 aces, 20 kills, 5 blocks, 29 digs.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN COMBINED STATS:
Aryn Sanders -- 4 aces, 36 digs;
Kennady Collick -- 2 aces, 10 kills, 1 block, 22 digs;
Aubrie Johnson -- 2 kills, 4 blocks;
Taelor Kellum -- 4 aces, 42 kills, 12 blocks, 7 digs;
Hallie Hunt -- 2 kills, 4 digs;
Amanda Thielges -- 7 aces, 54 assists, 19 digs;
Carolynn Thielges -- 4 aces, 15 digs;
Natalie Greve -- 3 kills, 1 assist, 2 digs, 1 block;
Kira Carlton -- 10 digs, 4 kills.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)