Beth Ware has been the volleyball coach for the Berean Academy Lady Eagles for the past four years and her team has finished closer and closet to the top in the Tennessee Athletic Association of Christian Schools tournament.
They finished fourth the first year and third the second. They were runner-up last year, so you can just guess that they won it all in her fourth year as their leader.
Such was the case in Murfreesboro a couple of weeks ago as the Lady Eagles defeated Franklin Road Christian Academy in three straight sets to claim their first state title and the first ever in the history of the school, a private christian school located off Highway 153 just past Northgate.
Berean has about 300 students in grades K-12, which means there are less than 80 students in grades 9-12 from which to field a volleyball team.
The record wasn't all that impressive as they won 23 matches against a dozen defeats, but when push came to shove and the most important matches were being played, the Lady Eagles came through with nerves of steel as they prevailed by scores of 25-20, 25-18 and 25-20.
Libby Smith was selected as the tournament most valuable player while Alicia Baird was also selected for the All-Tournament team. Both are freshmen.
Berean had lost to this same Franklin Road team in the finals last year, so to come back to beat the defending champs in their own gym just made it that much more special.
"It was a fun environment as the gym was packed. We had made friends with another team, so they were cheering for us in the finals which helped offset their home-court advantage," the coach recalled.
"It was a little nerve-wracking, knowing that we had to beat the best team in their own gym, but everything worked out just fine.
Speaking of those talented ninth graders, six of Berean's 10 varsity players this fall are freshmen. They also have three pretty good sophomores.
Jasa Allen, a 5-4 sparkplug who serves as one of their setters, is the only senior on the team.
Emme Woodward, Bailee Redden and Lydia Johnson are all sophomores while Rheagan Kean, Kayleigh Heaton, Anna Shorle, Abigail Schremp join Smith and Baird as the six freshmen.
Berean finished second in the region tournament to Tri-Cities, a team from Bristol, but the Lady Eagles didn't have to play them again in the state tournament.
Playing perhaps their best volleyball of the season, the Lady Eagles were unbeaten in the tournament with three straight wins.
"We had a really good season as we're the first team ever from Berean to win a state title. That's why it's such a big deal for us," Ware said after school was dismissed Tuesday afternoon.
"We graduated six seniors from last year's state runner-up, but I could tell from the beginning of the season that we'd have a strong team. Last year we just didn't have that killer instinct, but consistent hitting was the key this year. We never let up and just seemed to hit it harder in tight situations," the coach continued.
Allen is a four-year starter who was on Ware's first team.
"We started here together, but she's a consistent, all-around good player who really stepped up as our leader this year. She's kind of quiet, but she's calm and cool-headed in tough situations and she was great with our younger girls.
"Our season started off kind of rough, but we definitely improved as the season went on. I'm not sure the final was our best performance, but it had to be our best match simply because of the outcome," Ware continued.
"Volleyball is just a sport, but it's a gift from the Lord to be able to play and win like we did. This is really a special group of young ladies and we didn't have any grade issues to worry about.
"They are all just great kids, but I guess we created a lot of pressure for ourselves concerning next year. I guess we'll just have to go back up there and prove ourselves again," Ware concluded.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)