CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Any coach in any sport will tell you just how hard it is to beat the same team three times in the same season.
It’s even harder to beat that same team four times, but that’s what the Cleveland Lady Blue Raider volleyball team did Tuesday night.
Hosting the Region 3-AAA tournament at their own spacious Raider Arena, the Lady Blue Raiders won a pair of matches and advanced to the sectional round where they will host the Region 4 runner-up on Thursday.
But on a night where Bradley and Cleveland both breezed past their semifinal opponents, Cleveland made it four in a row with a 3-0 sweep of the Bearettes.
There were nine sets of volleyball played on Tuesday and none were close.
Bradley swept past Coffee County by scores of 25-12, 25-17 and 25-19 while Cleveland whipped Lincoln County by scores of 25-8, 25-9 and 25-17.
Then in the championship match, Cleveland beat Bradley by scores of 25-10, 25-12 and 25-14.
Cleveland will now host Oakland in a sectional match on Thursday at 7 while Bradley will travel to Murfreesboro to battle Siegel, the team that ended Cleveland's season a year ago.
“We have some phenomenal female athletes at Cleveland and some of them play volleyball. Bradley has a good team, but our girls just feel like we’re better and we seem to have an edge mentally,” said Cleveland coach Amy McGowan after her team improved to 36-11 for the season.
“We know that we can’t afford to let down as we have to focus on every point, but we just want to put ourselves in the right position and we did that by winning both matches tonight. Overall, I’m really pleased with how we played as we’re healthy and focused on playing good volleyball.
“I just hope we can bring it again on Thursday, but I thought we were scrappy and energetic tonight and the results showed,” she added.
The Bearettes are now 29-6 for the season with four of those losses to the Blue Raiders. Coach Christy McElhaney didn’t have any quick answers for the way her team played after playing so well in its earlier match.
“We just broke down against Cleveland, but it’s just a mental block with them,” the veteran Bradley coach began.
“I’m really pleased with the way we played in the first match as we were ready to go when we walked in the gym. We always talk about minimizing our unforced errors, but we had a ton against Cleveland. The team score can get away in a hurry when that happens.
“I think we put all of our effort into that first match as we had to win to advance, but now we just have to erase this one from our memory and concentrate on Thursday’s match. It’s been a long time since we went to the state tournament, but we still have a shot,” McElhaney added.
A kill by Lacey Inman gave Bradley an early lead, but five straight service points from Addison Brock put Cleveland ahead 6-1.
Five straight service points from Mary Smith extended Cleveland’s lead to 13-3 and the Bearettes were never able to get much closer.
A block from Cleveland’s Jordan Whitcraft and a Bradley error put the Blue Raiders up 2-0 in the second set. A kill by Bradley’s Ashlan Crittenden slowed the momentum for a second, but six straight points from Brock put Cleveland in the driver’s seat at 9-1.
Again, Cleveland continued playing almost error-free volleyball and the difference just kept growing until a kill from Lily O’Bryan clinched the second set and put the Lady Raiders within shouting distance of a region title.
Four straight points by sophomore Kinslee McGowan, including a pair of aces, put Cleveland ahead 4-0 in the final set. A kill by Brooke Eslinger and five straight service points by the Cleveland junior extended the lead to 17-5 and it was just a matter of time before the celebration could begin for the girls in blue.
Three straight kills by Lauren Hurst then wrapped up the title for Cleveland, its second region title in the past three years.
Eslinger was voted the tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Hurst, her older sister Addison, McGowan, Smith and Whitcraft. Bradley’s honorees included Callie Elrod, Kyndall McElhaney, Trinity Reagan and Crittenden.
BRADLEY STATS VS. COFFEE CO.:
Elise Brew – 18 assists, 2 kills, 1 ace
Ashlen Crittenden – 2 aces, 10 kills, 7 digs, 10 assists
Callie Elrod – 1 ace, 5 kills, 4 digs, 1 block
Ava Koger – 4 kills, 3 digs
Abigail Leonard – 7 aces, 19 digs, 1 kill
Kyndall McElhaney – 3 kills, 6 digs
Karson Morrison – 1 kill
Trinity Reagan – 1 block, 4 kills.
BRADLEY STATS VS CLEVELAND:
Elise Brew – 1 kill, 10 assists, 4 digs
Olivia Barker – 6 digs
Brooklynn Cantrell – 3 digs
Ashlan Crittenden – 6 kills, 5 assists, 10 digs
Callie Elrod – 5 kills, 3 digs
Laney Inman – 5 kills, 3 dig
Ava Koger – 1 kill
Abigail Leonard – 8 digs
Kyndall McElhaney – 1 kill, 11 digs
Trinity Reagan – 1 kill
Ashlan Stuman – 4 assists, 2 digs.
CLEVELAND STATS FOR BOTH MATCHES:
Kinslee McGowan -- 3 aces, 4 kills, 49 assists, 11 digs
Lauren Hurst -- 4 aces, 29 kills, 1 block, 1 assist, 3 digs
Addison Hurst -- 2 aces, 12 kills, 1 assist, 17 digs
Brooke Eslinger -- 1 ace, 1 kill, 3 assists, 24 digs
Gracelyn Jackson -- 3 digs
Emma Smith -- 1 kill
Lily O'Bryan -- 5 kills, 7 assists, 11 digs
Addison Brock -- 3 aces, 1 assist, 3 digs
Amanda Estrada -- 2 digs
Mary Smith -- 3 aces, 12 kills, 1 assist, 6 digs
Kaitlyn South -- 1 kill, 4 digs
Paige Wenger -- 1 ace, 7 assists
Jordan Whitcraft -- 12 kills, 1 block, 1 assist, 1 dig
Allison Turner -- 1 dig.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)