There are two logical reasons for Sale Creek volleyball coach Debbie Hill to schedule Cleveland and Ooltewah to start the 2018 regular season.
“I want the competition and the money,” Hill said prior to Tuesday’s match with the unbeaten Lady Owls.
The competition the Lady Blue Raiders and Lady Owls was extremely good, considering both compete in the tough District 5-3A, and both matches drew solid crowds in the Lady Panthers’ home gym.
The money came from another good crowd that backed the Lady Panthers that was keeping the concession stand workers busy all night, including for the junior varsity match.
But, more importantly, Sale Creek (2-0) beat both of the higher classified squads. The Lady Panthers took down Cleveland, 3-1, on Aug. 16, and Tuesday swept the Lady Owls 3-0 with set scores of 25-23, 25-19 and 25-19 in a tight, competitive match.
“All the seniors are pushing everybody else to get better, but we’ve always had confidence in our team,” said senior Mady Steele. “I think we played better against Cleveland, but we played hard tonight because we wanted another big win.”
This wasn’t a fluke.
Sale Creek is not a fly-by-night team coming out of nowhere to defeat two solid Triple-A teams.
The Lady Panthers appeared in the 2017 and 2016 state Class A state tournaments and were knocked out of the 2015 with a 3-2 loss to Jackson County in the sectional round, one match from the state at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
“They’re a good team,” said Ooltewah’s Cheyanne Sales, who had 10 kills and five blocks in the game. “They didn’t let up and overall did a very good job. I thought we did a good job as well and we’ll learn from this game.”
Tuesday wasn’t the last time Sale Creek will face a 5-3A opponent. On Aug. 27, they’ll travel to Walker Valley to play the Lady Mustangs, another solid foe from one of the stronger districts in East Tennessee.
“We play better teams so we can get better,” Hill said. “We passed really well, we have a good setter and, of course we have some good hitters up front. Everybody that went on the court tonight seemed tuned in and did good jobs. I was proud of the team’s focus; we stayed with it.”
Ooltewah coach Elaine Peigen agreed.
“Sale Creek was consistent in all three sets,” she said. “We had a hard time playing against their middle hitters. They’re such an athletic team that it’s a hard matchup with them, but this was one of our best matches so far, as far as being competitive and fighting back.”
Steele paced the Lady Panthers’ dominant power game with 16 kills. Senior Sydney Gibson had 12 kills. Senior Reagan Ayres and sophomore Lillie Morgan each contributed five ills and freshman Kayla Phillips added two more.
Senior Jayda Perry threw in an impressive 39 assists.
“Our power game’s not bad,” Hill said. “They’ve got a lot of experience, especially the two hitters, and we have some young girls coming on in some important spots.”
The first set was tied 17-17 after Steeles kill roared past the baseline. The Lady Owls (3-1)committed back-to-back errors and Morgan threw in a kill for a 20-17 lead.
Ooltewah fought back to tie the game with Caty Hughes’ block and two miscues by Sale Creek: two straight kill shots into the net. Steele sandwiched two kills around Madalyn Mill’s kill – she had nine digs, nine kills, 14 assists and three block in a solid performance – and the set was tied against at 22-all.
Gibson knocked down a kill and a two-hand push to give Sale Creek a 24-22 advantage. An error by Perry kept Ooltewah alive, but Morgan’s kill that Addison Duplantis attempted return went into the rafters, provided the win.
In the second set, Sale Creek had a 12-9 lead when the Lady Owls scored four straight points – Sales had a kill, Alyssa White, who had seven digs, two kills, eight assists and two blocks – gave Ooltewah a rare lead at 13-12.
The set remained nip-and-tuck the rest of the way. Sales’ kill pulled the Lady Owls to within 20-19, but the Lady Panthers scored the final five points to take a 2-0 lead. Morgan had a cross-court kill that rode the net for about 5 feet, Ayres added a kill Duplantis was unable to return and Gibson scored the final three points with a block and two kills.
“Tonight should do something for our confidence,” Hill said. “We played well in both our games and we made some mistakes, but it should be a good learning experience for the girls.”
Sale Creek jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the finale, but Ooltewah wouldn’t go away. When Sales, a standout softball catcher for the Lady Owls’ softball team, scored on a block and kill, Sale Creek’s lead was 14-12.
The Lady Panthers were up 17-15 and ran off five of the next six points and were aided by four Ooltewah errors. Steele put up Sale Creek’s only point in the run on another kill. Her kill later put Ooltewah in a 23-18 hole. Sales recorded a block, but the Lady Owls committed two errors to cap the sweep.
“We played well and had some good digs,” Peigen said. “Our serving could have been more aggressive and we’ve got to work on that. Sale Creek was just consistently good in all three sets. Overall, it’s a loss but it’s a gain from where we’re coming from to where we’re going. Each individual has improved in one way or the other.”
Madalyn Mills – 9 digs, 9 kills, 14 assists, 3 blocks
Cheyanne Sales – 10 kills, 5 blocks
Jensen Davis – 10 digs, 1 kill
Ariel Reid – 24 digs, 5 assists
Alyssa White – 7 digs, 2 kills, 8 assists, 2 blocks
Katy Hughes – 5 blocks
Mady Steele – 16 kills, 17 digs, 1 ace
Sydney Gibson – 12 kills, 2 digs, .5 block
Reagan Ayres – 5 kills, 2 digs, .5 block
Lillie Morgan – 5 kills, 4 digs, 1 ace
Sophia Dozier – 1 kill, 14 digs
Kayla Phillips -- 2 kills, 4 digs
Allison Smith – 4 digs
Jayda Perry – 39 assists, 11 digs
Avery Cox -- 14 digs
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)