(Story has been updated)
Sloan Sullivan served up a powerful momentum shift for Ooltewah’s Lady Owls in the District 5-AAA volleyball tournament championship game Wednesday at Ooltewah High.
After winning the first set against Soddy-Daisy, the Lady Owls fell behind 15-10 in the second set and coach Elaine Peigen quickly called timeout.
“I didn’t fuss at them,” she said. “I tried to be positive and excited to get them up so they’d get out there and play. The reality is you want to win this one so you don’t have to go five sets.”
The Lady Owls ran off 14 straight points – Sullivan was serving throughout the stunning spree – and No. 1 seed Ooltewah went on to win 25-19 and eventually knock off the second-seeded Lady Trojans, 3-1, for their second straight tournament title.
The set scores were 25-21, 25-19, 13-25, 25-21.
“This one feels better than the first,” said Lady Owls star Courtlyn Ison, selected the tournament’s most valuable player. “The first one was big, but seniors on that team are gone and to keep it going is better for the players on this team, I think.”
With the victory Ooltewah earned the right to host the Region 3-AAA tournament on Monday and Tuesday.
Ooltewah will play District 6-AAA runner-up Stone Memorial on Monday at 5 p.m. while Soddy-Daisy takes on 6-AAA champion Cookeville at 7:30 p.m. in first-round regional action. The championship match will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Finalists advance to the sectional round.
Sullivan’s clutch performance was one for the scrapbooks.
“I’m pretty confident serving,” said Sloan, one of six Ooltewah players named to the all-tournament team. “I keep telling myself when I’m back there, ‘Arm up. Believe in yourself. We need this point, we need this point and even if it isn’t an ace keep the ball in play.’ ”
Sullivan launched speedy, accurate clothes-line serves that Soddy-Daisy had trouble dealing with. She had five service winners – including two net-crawlers – and started the run with a powerful kill.
Ison had three points in the streak, Alex Biro two, Hanna Matthews one and Soddy-Daisy had three miscues along the way.
After 10th-ranked Ooltewah (41-10) went ahead 24-15, Sullivan snapped the string with a serve that sailed long.
The damage was done, though.
“Sloan is a really good server,” Ison said. “She’s got a hard serve and serves her zones very well. She’s the reason we got those 14 points.”
Soddy-Daisy scored four consecutive points to pull within 24-19, but Biro’s kill hit a Soddy-Daisy player and skipped out of bounds to end the set.
“Sloan’s great serving turned the game around,” Peigen said. “Had she not done that we might have been in trouble. It goes to show that it all starts with the serve. You have to serve well to win.”
Said Soddy-Daisy coach Lorri Johnson: “That was a momentum buster, but our girls blistered them in the third set. They (Lady Owls) made some errors, but we had pressure on them constantly and didn’t let up. Volleyball is a game of momentum swings and when you have one that swings on the down side, it’s hard to turn it around.”
Although the Lady Trojans (41-17) rebounded to win the third set, the difference between 1-1 and 2-0 is a larger hurdle to overcome.
“It’s hard,” said Haley Reynolds, Soddy-Daisy’s lone senior. “You’re trying to get the ball back in your hands, thinking you can do something with it, if you just get it back. It’s very hard to work out of that mentally.
“Once it happens one or two times, it just rattles off and you’re trying to do anything to get a confidence booster.”
In the first set, Ooltewah, which followed up last season’s district title with a region championship and a sectional win that earned a spot in the state tournament, built a 17-11 lead and was still up by five at 22-17.
The Lady Trojans, the only district opponent to extend Ooltewah to five sets this season, cut the deficit to 22-20 when Sullivan served long. Biro followed with a kill and Soddy-Daisy had an error and a kill to put the score at 24-21. Ison’s kill was the clincher.
The third set was tied 12-12 and Soddy-Daisy outscored its district rival 13-1 to close out the set and avoid a 3-0 sweep.
“We lacked a little on the back row in serve-reception,” Peigen said, “and that really hurt. We kind of fell apart. It’s good to know they can regroup and win the match. They’ve been in this situation before and have learned to fight back. They don’t let up, don’t give up and they’ll always fight.”
The Lady Owls found out the Lady Trojans still had a little fight coming out of the third-set win.
Soddy-Daisy pushed its lead to 15-12 – the widest gap of the set to that point – on an Ooltewah error.
The Lady Owls got a windmill kill from freshman Sidney Killingsworth and Ison had a kill and block to tie the set at 15-all. Then an Ison kill went long, but Ooltewah scored six straight points, including three service points by Summer Williams, to put the Lady Owls up 22-16.
Karigan Fulghum ripped a kill and back-to-back service points, Ooltewah threw in a miscue and Alex Volker’s kill and the Lady Trojans trailed 23-21.
Bethany Spange’s shot put the Lady Owls within a point of clinching the championship and fittingly Sullivan’s kill shot ricocheted off a Lady Trojans and out of bounds provide that point.
“This feels great, it feels amazing,” said Sullivan, one of only two seniors on the Ooltewah roster – Spange is the other one. “I’m at a loss for words right now, but I knew we could do it.”
Ooltewah has now won 42 of 50 sets against district opponents in 2013.
Soddy-Daisy: Haley Reynolds – 8 kills, 1 block, 8 digs; Hannah Robertson – 37 digs, 3 aces, 1 kill; Chloe Mitchell – 28 assists, 20 digs, 5 kills, 1 ace; Lauren Smith – 24 digs, 6 kills, 2 assists, 1 ace; Karigan Fulghum – 18 digs, 5 kills, 2 aces, 1 assist; Abby Walker – 21 digs, 7 kills, 3 assists; Alex Volker – 6 kills, 2 blocks; Grayson Brown – 2 digs, 1 ace.
Ooltewah: Sloan Sullivan – 9 kills, 18 digs, 5 aces; Josie Cain – 15 digs, 1 ace; Summer Williams – 10 digs, 4 aces; Bethany Spange – 5 kills, 10 digs, 1 ace; Hanna Matthews 3 kills, 8 digs, 34 assists; Sidney Killingsworth – 8 kills, 2 digs, 1 block; Alex Biro – 10 kills, 1 dig; Courtlyn Ison – 11 kills, 4 blocks; Kailin Higgins – 1 dig, 1 ace; Alexis Godsey – 2 digs.
Most Valuable Player – Courtlyn Ison, Ooltewah
Cleveland – Marissa Langford, Kellee Geren
East Hamilton – Emma Lenoir, Meredith Stott, Kris Joo
Soddy-Daisy – Chloe Mitchell, Lauren Smith, Hannah Robertson, Karigan Fulghum
Ooltewah – Hanna Matthews, Sloan Sullivan, Alex Biro, Josie Cain, Sidney Killingsworth
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)