MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – There were tears on both sides of the court at MTSU’s Murphy Center Thursday afternoon.
There were tears of relief and joy for the Baylor Lady Red Raiders while the tears for the Briarcrest Lady Saints represented heartbreak and disappointment.
Such is the case when two really good volleyball teams meet for the second straight year for a D-II Class AA state title.
Briarcrest won last year, but 2017 belonged to Baylor, an outstanding team without a superstar who improved to 42-5 with its third straight win here this week.
Baylor won Thursday’s championship match by a 3-1 score, winning the first two sets by scores of 25-20 and 25-11 before the Lady Saints came back to win the third, 25-17.
Then in the fourth, the Lady Saints had a 23-20 lead late and a fifth set looked like a real possibility, but Baylor had other plans and won 26-24 after scoring six of the last seven points.
Thursday’s title was Baylor’s fourth overall and second for current head coach Sarah Lail after her team won in 2014.
“This is such an unbelievable feeling, but our motto all year has been FAMILY, which stands for Forget About Me I Love You,” said Lail after the championship hardware had been passed out.
“We have seven superstars and another seven great ones in support, but what another great team effort it was. It was all about heart and desire and our refusing to lose. We knew we needed to stay on the attack as we didn’t want any doubts creeping into our heads.
“We were on today and had a great start. Even in the third set when we lost, we played well. But this has been a special group since the first day and I couldn’t be more proud of the way we finished,” Lail added.
The Lady Saints had to come through the losers bracket to earn a spot in Thursday’s championship match, but they were able to beat Brentwood Academy in a 3-2 match on Wednesday and appeared ready go challenge the Baylor girls.
The Lady Saints may not be quite as high powered as they were last year, but they’re still pretty darn good. They just ran into a Baylor team that was just a tad bit better this time around.
Briarcrest coach Carla Anderton gave Baylor a lot of credit for playing a great match, but she felt like her own team’s slow start certainly didn’t help.
“What a match,” she began after her team fell to 34-8 for the season.
“Baylor was the better team today, but we struggled out of the gate. We needed for our entire team to be on today and we weren’t, but we finished well. Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short,” she expressed.
Baylor senior Sarah Sumida, who’s been a major contributor for the past five years, was selected as the tournament MVP after recording 39 assists, 17 digs and seven kills. She’ll be playing at Tennessee Tech next fall.
“That was so much fun as everyone did their job,” Sumida said while sharing the experience with family and friends on the upper level of Murphy Center.
“I felt like this was one of our best matches this season and I can’t describe just how happy I am,” she continued.
And what was the message from coach Lail when the last timeout was called in the fourth set and Baylor was trailing 24-22?
“She just reminded us that it was now or never, but we never lost our positive attitude the whole time. We knew what we had to do and who we had to block. We were able to get the job done,” Sumida added.
Baylor bolted to a 5-0 lead in the first set and never trailed.
Briarcrest tied the score one time at 11-11 on a kill from Alyiah Wells, but Baylor slowly pulled away to win the set with Sarah Barker’s block being the winning point.
The Lady Red Raiders got off to another great start in the second set as a 4-0 lead stretched to 12-4 before Briarcrest called a timeout. The Lady Saints called their second time with Baylor leading 20-9 and the set was over shortly afterward following two kills from Lexie Laurendine and one from Zoe Ubamadu.
Most of the third set belonged to Briarcrest as Baylor’s only lead came early at 3-2. A kill from Wells put the Lady Saints on the board as momentum temporarily shifted to their side.
The Lady Saints continued their inspired play in the fourth set and took a 5-1 lead at the start. Barker and Sumida combined for a block to help Baylor tie the score at 14-14 but Briarcrest quickly regained the lead and was ahead 20-17 when Lail called her first timeout.
The second timeout for Baylor came on set point as they trailed 24-22, but somehow and someway, everything changed after that.
Laurendine’s kill made it 24-23 before a tip from Rogers knotted the score. Ally Craig’s ace gave Baylor a one-point lead and caused Anderton to call a timeout.
That didn’t slow the Baylor express as the Lady Raiders claimed the title when a Briarcrest return came up short in the net.
Craig had 16 kills for Baylor while Rogers finished with 12 and Laurendine 10. Sumida had 39 assists while Elizabeth Case had three aces. Sumida led with 17 digs while Case had 11. Craig and Rogers both finished with 10.
Wells was the leader for Briarcrest with 17 kills while Carsyn Starr had 14. Cade Stewart had 36 assists while Hannah Cox had 19 digs.
Elizabeth Case – 1 assist, 3 aces, 11 digs
Sarah Sumida -- 7 kills, 39 assists, 1 ace, 17 digs
Hayden Barton – 1 assist, 4 digs
Zoe Ubamadu – 4 kills, 1 assist, 3 digs
Ally Craig – 16 kills, 1 assist, 10 digs
Denver Rogers – 12 kills, 10 digs
Sarah Barker – 5 kills, 1 assist
Maddy Tindall – 1 ace
Laura Kate May – 3 assists, 6 digs
Lexie Laurendine – 10 kills, 1 dig.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)