It’s hard to imagine a team heading to the 2018 TSSAA Class 2A volleyball tournament next week in Murfreesboro on a hotter streak than East Hamilton’s Lady Hurricanes.
The fifth-ranked Lady Canes (28-2) beat Red Bank, 3-0, with a 58-minute smackdown Thursday night in a win-or-go-home Sectional before a good crowd at East Hamilton High School for their 21st straight victory and made a loud statement that they’re a team to be reckoned with starting Tuesday in Murfreesboro.
East Hamilton posted the victory with scores of 25-12, 25-6 and 25-10 and improved their record to 9-2 over the past two tournament seasons.
The only two losses came in last year’s state tourney, the Lady Canes’ first appearance on the sports’ biggest stage at Middle Tennessee State University.
In their second straight Sectional, everything bounced right for the Lady Canes and their confidence now is at a high-water mark, but the challenge at state will be much stronger.
“We’re a lot more confident because we went last year (to state) and learned how to get there,” setter Hillary English said after helping the Lady Canes post their seventh straight shutout and ninth in the last 10 matches. “I think that our level of play will go up against the level of competition we’ll be facing at state.”
English finished with match-high 32 assists.
Since losing to Hume-Fogg, 2-0, in the opening match in the Choo Choo Classic at Ooltewah in late August, the Lady Canes have steamrolled every opponent, including a revenge 2-1 win against Hume-Fogg for the Choo Choo Gold Bracket championship, and have won 51 of 58 sets with 15 shutouts. East Hamilton's only other loss was to Baylor in the season opener.
“We’re really connected right now as a team,” East Hamilton’s Emma Mitchell said. “Even when we make a mistake we look at each other and say, ‘My bad,’ and move on. Coach (Bojana Hyatt) always tells us to look at each other or else there will be bad consequences. We try not to get nervous on the court. If you’re nervous, you should just sit down. Play nervous and you don’t play correctly at all.”
That’s why after Red Bank took a 4-0 lead in the final set, the Lady Canes have a no-sweat attitude and outscored the Lady Lions (13-24) 25-6 to wrap up their second straight Sectional title.
East Hamilton proved once again it can string together points that can frustrate and deflate the opponent. With a 13-7 lead in Set 1, the Lady Canes unleashed an 8-1 spurt that stretched the lead to 21-8.
In the second set, the Lady Lions were up 3-2 and East Hamilton exploded for 14 straight points to extend its lead to 16-3.
“(This match) was a lot of fun to watch,” Hyatt said. “Our girls came ready and they came excited. They really wanted to go to state and gave it all they had to make it happen. They kept pressure on Red Bank and were really confident in what they were doing.”
Red Bank coach Buzz Ricks saw a silver lining of his team’s reaching the Sectional round and its season-ending performance.
“That was our state tournament game,” he said. “We lose two players (Shelby Romans and Zanobia Pratt) that are important to us, but we’ll have a few stepping up and some of those girls looked good tonight.
“The score didn’t show how well we played, but they played hard on every point and that’s all I can ask of them. They learned a lot this year.”
English put on a setter’s clinic throughout the match, enabling the powerful East Hamilton hitters to hammer the Lady Lions’ defense as a result. From the 13-7 lead in the opening set, English had four assists, a saving dig, two blocks and an ace in an eight-point spurt.
Jordyn Griffith benefitted from English assistance for three kills and Emma Mitchell added two. McKenna Hayes scored on a change-of-pace tap.
In the impressive 14-0 run that settled the second set, English had three more assists -- Madison Hayes scoring on all three -- and capped the run with a point-scoring block. Sydney Batten served the entire streak and recorded all four of her aces.
East Hamilton put up six of the final points to surge into a commanding 2-0 lead. Included were four of Mitchell’s seven kills and Griffith got the 25th point with one of her seven kills.
Red Bank’s spirits were boosted in the finale with the first four points coming on an East Hamilton net serve, two Romans aces and one of two Ashley Ware kills.
The Lady Lions were within 14-9 only to see the Lady Canes end the match with an 11-1 run that included the final eight points as a result of three Red Bank errors and two Mitchell kills, an ace, Griffith’s kill and Madison Allen’s match-ending slap.
But East Hamilton’s work is not done.
“We want to redeem ourselves after last year,” said Madison Hayes, who had match-high 13 kills and 24 digs with one ace. “We were new to state last year and while we went further than I thought we would, we hope to do much better this year. We have better chemistry and we’re really mentally tough. I think we can put pressure on many teams over there this time.”
Bailee Phillips and Bailey Lee each had three kills to pace Red Bank’s attack.
Romans, bringing to an end her career with the Lady Lions, had a team-high eight assists and is departing with a belief Red Bank will benefit from this season in the future.
“We knew they were good and had some good hitters. We prepared and did as much as we could. “Zanobia and I are the only two seniors and the girls coming back know what to do next year.”
Hixson, which lost to East Hamilton in the Region 3-2A championship match on Tuesday, traveled to Upperman for its Sectional match and lost 3-1 with scores of 25-23, 13-25, 25-18 and 25-23.
“We were up on them 19-14 in the first set and let them come back on us,” Hixson coach Robert Catlett said in a phone interview. “We lost two sets by four points, but what can you do? Tuesday night we imploded with some girls at each other’s throat and aired some things out Wednesday. They played good tonight. There was nothing to be upset about except the ball didn’t go our way.”
Hixson, led by Abby Rector's 16 kills, Gabby Tench's 29 assists and Shelby Rector's 23 digs, ended with an 18-20 record.
Shelby Romans – 1 kill, 8 assists, .5 block, 3 digs, 2 aces
Shante Smith -- .5 block, 1 dig
Ashley Ware – 2 kills, 1 block
Sydney Hoppe – 5 assists, 10 digs
Bailee Phillips – 3 kills
Zoe Helms – 1 kill, 4 assists, 4 digs
Lexie Wright – 5 digs
Whitley Gann – 4 digs
McKenna Hayes – 1 ace, 11 kills, 6 digs
Emma Mitchell – 1 ace, 7 kills, 7 digs
Kayla Ford – 11 digs
Sydney Batten – 4 aces, 11 digs
Emily Pettit – 5 assists
Hillary English – 1 ace, 2 kills, 32 assists, 8 digs
Madison Hayes – 1 ace, 13 kills, 24 digs
Raine Phillips – 2 kills, 4 blocks, 4 digs
Jordyn Griffith – 7 kills, 1 dig.
Shelby Rector – 2 aces, 11 kills, 1 block, 23 digs
Annie Zeigler – 2 aces, 5 assists, 13 digs
Blake Burba – 22 digs
Abby Rector – 16 kills, 3 blocks, 13 digs
Gabby Tench – 1 ace, 1 kill, 29 assists, 9 digs
Makenna Seitz – 2 digs
Rickell Crutcher – 1 kill
Ava Rogers – 1 ace, 2 kills, 6 blocks, 1 assist, 3 digs
Riley Bellamy – 8 kills, 3 digs
Jenna Westfall – 1 ace
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)