Ooltewah just keeps on rolling.
The Lady Owls shook off a sluggish start and defeated visiting Walker Valley, 3-0, Thursday night to record their 17th consecutive District 5-AAA volleyball victory on Pink Out night at Edward M. Foster Gymnasium.
Ooltewah went 12-0 en route to capturing the district regular season title in 2013 and later claimed district, regional and sub-state titles to earn a spot in the Class AAA state tournament. Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett ended the Lady Owls’ championship hopes with a 3-2 in in the state tourney at Middle Tennessee State University.
Coach Elaine Peigen’s squad now has won 53 of its last 60 sets in the 17-match winning streak. The Lady Owls won 38 of 45 district sets last season and are 15-0 in 2014.
The Lady Owls – both teams were decked out in pink jerseys for the Pink Out match, the proceeds from which go to the Mary Ellen Locher Cancer Foundation – swept the Lady Mustangs by set scores of 25-22, 25-15 and 25-11.
It was another example of Ooltewah (13-2, 5-0) having a target on its back and still being able to get past another district rival.
“We love that,” said senior Courtlyn Ison, who had 13 kills, 19 digs and three aces in the match played before an energetic crowd and an ice wrap on her right shoulder. “Coach tells us all the time people want to beat us, that it would make their day to beat us. We have to remember that we can’t take it easy and we have to give 100 percent all the time.
“People work hard to beat us. We have to work even harder to beat them.”
Walker Valley (11-10, 2-3) played an inspired first set and led 20-16 following an errant serve and a miscue at the net by the Lady Owls.
The Lady Mustangs gave up three straight points on a serve that sailed long, an errant kill that sailed out on the side and a serve into the net. Ison’s serve was wide left to give Walker Valley a shaky 21-19 lead.
The Lady Owls’ Alex Biro – she also was icing her shoulder – scored on a kill, teammate Hannah Henderson’s netted a serve, Biro came back with another kill that went off Walker Valley’s Mikayla Lumpkin and out of play and Kailin Higgins ripped a service point to tie the match at 22-all.
Biro’s soft-touch shot gave the Lady Owls a 23-22 lead – their first since 11-10 – the Lady Mustangs followed with a shot into the net and Alex Crittenden’s over-the-head shot went side-out and Ooltewah closed out the first set.
“We probably gave that first game away,” Walker Valley coach Judy Pruett said. “We had the momentum and couldn’t hold it. Ooltewah has a great team and you have to stay with them point-for-point. They’ve got great hitters and blockers and if they get the lead it’s hard to keep them down.”
After Ooltewah’s 3-0 win over Soddy-Daisy on Tuesday, Peigen, who is a cancer survivor, felt the Lady Owls turned in a lackluster effort. They started out much the same way two days later and the coach lit a fire under her players when they trailed 20-16.
“I told the girls to keep fighting,” she said. “It’s not over until somebody scores 25 points. This team doesn’t get down and I give them credit for that. Our passing had to improve. Our serve reception had to improve. They really stepped up and came from behind to win.”
The importance of the first-set rally didn’t escape senior Lady Owls setter Josie Cain, who was credited with 24 digs and two aces.
“We just had to push back,” she said. “This was a really big (match) for us because we’ve been talking about it all week. Our experience helped us a lot. We know teams want to beat us and we love that. We feed off it. We try to get pumped up before every match and make (the opponent) our target.”
The tight first set caused Biro to recall Tuesday’s win against Soddy-Daisy, the only district team to win two sets in the same match against the Lady Owls in 2013.
“I had a flashback to Soddy-Daisy,” said Biro, credited with 11 kills and three digs in Thursday’s win. “We have a reputation of being a really good team, but we have to start matches playing that way and ending them that way, rather than playing like we’re on a roller coaster.”
The Lady Owls didn’t lead the second set until grabbing a 12-11 advantage off a Lady Mustangs misplay at the net. Nursing a 19-14 lead, Ooltewah scored five straight points, including two Sidney Killingsworth kills, an Ison service point, a well-placed winner on Allie Jones’ tap and a Walker Valley kill shot that sailed out of play.
Much of Ooltewah’s offense went through junior Hanna Matthews, who recorded a match-high 24 digs.
Walker Valley’s Madison Pruett scored on a tap, but Biro’s kill capped the second-set win for the Lady Owls.
The Lady Mustangs led only once in the finale, that coming at 1-0 when Ooltewah’s Summer Williams opened the set with a serve past the backline.
Ison then had two kills and a block, Killingsworth scored on a tap at the net and Summers had a winner and the Lady Owls built a 6-1 lead.
Nikki Pugh’s kill shot pulled the Lady Mustangs to within 8-7, but the Lady Owls then began to pull away.
Ooltewah enjoyed a 17-8 lead after back-to-back errant shots by Walker Valley. When Ison put away a perfectly placed tip and Williams added a service point, the Lady Owls had a comfortable 20-10 lead.
From 21-11, Ooltewah finished off the match when Emily Grace Thompson smashed a winner, Ison added a kill, Killingsworth scored on a deft touch shot and then ended the action with one of her seven kills following a sustained back-and-forth volley by both teams.
“The last two years we’re undefeated in the district,” Peigen said, “but we stress to the girls it didn’t come easy and it’s not a given. We’re having to work on that right now. We can’t just play on Ooltewah’s reputation. We have to play ball and step up our game.
“Overall I thought it was a great team effort tonight. Everybody contributed. It was a good district win for us.”
Nikki Pugh – 2 kills
Katelin Scoggins – 18 digs
Madison Russo – 1 block
Alexan Crittenden – 4 kills, 3 blocks, 5 assists
Madison Pruett – 8 kills, 15 digs
Sara Wilson – 19 digs
Julia McGuire – 1 block
Mikayla Lumpkin – 1 kill, 2 blocks
Ashlyn Flock – 2 kills, 14 digs, 12 assists
Summer Williams – 12 digs, 2 kills, 2 aces
Courtlyn Ison – 13 kills, 3 aces, 19 digs
Hanna Matthews – 28 assists, 2 aces, 1.5 block, 11 digs, 1 kill
Alex Biro – 11 kills, 1.5 blocks, 3 digs
Josie Cain – 24 digs, 2 aces
Allie Jones – 1 kill
Kailin Higgins – 9 digs, 2 aces
Emily Grace Thompson – 4 kills, 1 block
Hannah Henderson – 2 kills, 3 digs
Alexis Godsey – 3 digs
Sidney Killingsworth – 7 kills, 1 digs
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)