Qualifying for the state volleyball tournament is about to be habit forming for the Sale Creek Lady Panthers.
They advanced to the big show for the fifth straight year after beating the East Robertson Lady Indians by a 3-0 final Thursday night at Sale Creek’s McEwen Gymnasium.
It took barely over an hour for the winners to advance by scores of 25-11, 25-21 and 25-13.
The Lady Panthers improve to 22-4 while East Robertson’s season ends at 14-13.
Sale Creek has had an outstanding volleyball team for a long time as they claimed their 12th straight district tournament title and fifth straight region championship. And after earning the right to play the all-important sectional match at home again, they are once more making their plans for a trip to Murfreesboro where they hope to win their first state title in volleyball.
The Lady Panthers didn’t win a match at the state a year ago, a fact that has been on head coach Erin Briner’s mind ever since. Now they have a chance to rectify that situation and they earned that right by playing really good volleyball in their final home match of the season.
Briner just hopes that confidence level and quality of play continues at Stewarts Creek High School on Tuesday.
“We played consistent tonight and didn’t make many unforced errors and that was one of the keys for us,” Briner suggested after the final point had been scored.
“We knew that East Robertson has a scrappy team and we didn’t want to all more than two points in a row. I think we were able to achieve that as we didn’t want them to get on a roll,” she continued.
While Sale Creek basically breezed to that win in the first set, the second was a bit more challenging as the Lady Indians got their act together and pretty much led the entire way.
An ace from Madeline Wikberg gave the visitors from Middle Tennessee a 21-18 lead and a level of confidence they hadn’t known up to that point.
Just as quickly, the Lady Panthers regained their rhythm and scored the final seven points to totally take the steam out of the Lady Indians.
Desiree Higgins recorded the final six service points while Sarah Gibson had two kills and a block in that final stretch.
What could have been an even match was now 2-0 in favor of Sale Creek and Briner felt like that was a huge turning point in the match.
“That was a huge comeback as we just had to take care of the ball and play our game. I had all the confidence that we could come back and we were able to.
“We didn’t win a match at state last year, so hopefully we can change that next week,” Briner concluded with a smile.
East Robertson coach Jamie Pennington tried every trick he knew, but nothing seemed to work. He was the first to admit losing that second set was the final straw as his girls were unable to bounce back.
“That was a tough match, but we just didn’t play our best as we simply made too many mistakes. We were feeling pretty good toward the end of that second set, but it’s tough to overcome losing like we did. We were basically behind the eight ball at that point. We had the lead and let them get back in it,” Pennington said before heading to the dressing room.
“I’m pleased with our effort as we battled the entire way, but not as happy with our execution. The good news is that we don’t have a single senior on this team, so hopefully we can use this as a valuable learning experience,” he added.
There were a bunch of outstanding players for Sale Creek, but none any more impressive than freshman Ava Higgins, who finished with 16 kills, one dig and a block. She was simply too much for the Lady Indians to handle as she seemed to always come up with a huge hit about the time the momentum was about to swing the other way.
Desiree Higgins had 22 assists while Lillie Morgan finished with 13 digs and a dozen kills. Ansley White finished the evening with 14 assists.
The state pairings will be announced in the next day or so, but Sale Creek will play its first match some time Tuesday at Stewart’s Creek in Smyrna.
SALE CREEK STATISTICS:
Desiree Higgins – 1 dig, 22 assists
Sarah Gibson – 1 dig, 8 kills, 1 block
Lillie Morgan – 13 digs, 12 kills, 1 ace
Ansley White – 2 digs, 14 assists, 1 ace
Allison Smith – 11 digs, 1 assist
Ruthie Parks – 2 digs, 1 ace
Shelby Defore – 1 dig, 1 kill, 3 blocks
Ava Higgins – 16 kills, 1 dig, 1 block
Gabi Lacheney – 1 dig, 4 kills, 1 ace.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)