BY DAVE LINK
Anderson County volleyball coach Jayme Smith wasn’t sure how her team would respond after losing senior setter Hannah Freeman to a torn ACL in late August.
Smith returned her top eight players from the 2019 team that reached the Class AA state tournament, and Freeman was a key player in the team’s bid to get back to Murfreesboro.
“She’d been setting for us since freshman year,” Smith said. “It just changes the whole dynamic of the team. We all kind of held out this hope that she’d come back from the doctor and everything would be fine in a couple of weeks, so it kind of took all of us a little change of our mentality to get to where we needed to be.
“But we were super lucky that we had a setter (Kelsey Marlow) who’d been with us for four years and was just biding her time and waiting. She came in and we really didn’t see that much of a letup. She did an awesome job.”
AC was 12-0 when Freeman got hurt, but the Lady Mavs regrouped to win District 4-AA regular-season and tournament titles, the Region 2-AA championship, and advance to the state tournament title match for the first time since 2007.
The Lady Mavs lost to Nolensville in a four-set final.
“I think they just came together and picked up the slack when we did lose our setter,” Smith said. “Morgan (McMurray) and Matti (Rowland) had to take on more responsibilities and more roles and be smarter with what they were doing with the ball. But these girls, all the kudos go to them. They wanted it so bad. They wanted to win. They wanted to be there. They wanted that chance to play in the finals.”
McMurray and Rowland are seniors and were the team’s top offensive threats, while Freeman’s sister, Leah, is a standout libero.
McMurray had 16 kills in the state championship match, while Rowland had 12 kills, Marlow had 29 assists, Freeman had 25 digs and Erin Cantrell 16 digs.
AC lost to Nolensville (38-4) twice at state, losing in three sets in the winners-bracket final.
“They were a really good team,” Smith said. “They were very disciplined, they were fundamentally sound. You really had to work for every point, and we just gave away too many things that they took advantage of. They were smart about it, and they could put the ball down. They were good.”
Smith, in her 12th season as the Lady Mavs’ coach, was a senior at AC in 1993 when the program made its first-ever trip to the state tournament.
Before coaching at AC, Smith was Oak Ridge’s head coach for nine years.
Smith has five seniors on the 2020 roster, but she likes the outlook for next season.
“You don’t ever want to lose (seniors),” Smith said, “but I do think with the core that’s coming back and our upcoming freshmen and sophomores, I think we’re going to be right there with them again.”