By JESSE SMITHEY
A match that was supposed to be close — maybe even another five-set classic — turned into a rout Thursday in the Division II-AA state volleyball championship.
And in the wake, one state-championship streak ended while the victor’s tradition got a little bit richer.
Knoxville Catholic avenged a few painful postseason moments of recent past and took out that repressed angst on Briarcrest Christian in a straight-set victory in the TSSAA championship match at Middle Tennessee Christian.
The Lady Irish (34-10) got their second state title in program history — the first since 2016 — and ended Briarcrest’s three-year championship reign in just three sets Thursday: 25-23, 25-23 and 25-21.
And for Catholic, it marked the first state championship in the always ultra-competitive Division II-AA field. Catholic was a Division I, Class AA, champion in 2016.
“To me, this feels huge. That (Briarcrest team) is not some mid-level team that we just beat. That is a team full of future collegiate athletes,” Catholic coach Brent Carter said. “And our team is very similar to that. But they were the three-time defending state champion. They’d won it nine times. They had loads of confidence and a great coaching staff.
“That’s a really big win for us in a really big situation. And, I’m proud of our staff and proud of our kids for the execution.”
Bellamy Parker had a game-high 13 kills, as Catholic totaled more kills (43-33), more assists (38-31) and more service aces (11-4) than Briarcrest.
Devyn Dunn, a junior setter whose leg injury caused her to miss a couple weeks during the season, had 34 assists, seven digs and three aces in the win Thursday.
She was named MVP.
“It is absolutely amazing for me,” she said, “and just to be here for my teammates and give it my all for them and my coaches that have pushed me to where I am today.”
Briarcrest (40-3) certainly came into the week as the lead contender and that didn’t change much after an opening 3-0 win over Ensworth in the first round.
Then Briarcrest rallied in the final two sets to beat Catholic on Wednesday in a five-set match, sending the Lady Irish into an elimination semifinal.
Catholic knew that feeling all too well.
It had lost in five sets to Briarcrest in early round matches in both the 2019 and 2020 state tournaments, as well as a four-set defeat to Briarcrest in the 2019 state final.
Catholic owned this match, though.
Dunn’s strong service game at the end of the first set helped get Catholic off to a solid start yet again against Briarcrest. But this time around, the Lady Irish didn’t relent en route to claiming gold in their seventh finals appearance all-time and sixth in the last seven years.
“I think what really drove us in today’s game,” said Dunn, “was how bad we wanted to win for everyone and especially the seniors — and how we wanted revenge from past years and even just the day before.”
But it wasn’t just revenge that sparked the win.
Strategy and schematics played a part, as well.
“As a coaching staff, we primarily talked about one thing: we have to win the serve-and-pass battle,” said Carter. “And we normally do win that. But we didn’t in the five-set loss to (Briarcrest) yesterday. We were very intentional with our kids about the quality and depth of serve that we needed today.
“We also made one defensive shift that really paid off a lot of times in the match that we won. But other than that, it was about the kids executing at an extremely high level. They just didn’t get nervous. When Briarcrest made a run, we had an answer.”
DIVISION II-A CHAMPIONSHIP
Concord Christian reached the state championship match for the third time in four years, but Battle Ground Academy (31-2) snagged its first-ever volleyball state title before the Concord Lions could.
BGA topped Concord (22-15) in three sets Thursday at Middle Tennessee Christian, 25-19, 25-20, 26-24.
Annabelle Sulish, a Southern Illinois commit and senior who’s been a cornerstone of the Concord program for four years, posted 11 kills and five digs in the final match of her prep career.
But BGA dominated in kills (43-24), digs (39-32) and assists (39-21).
CLASS AA STATE TOURNAMENT
Anderson County needed three wins on Thursday to return to the Class AA state championship match for a second consecutive season. The Lady Mavs threatened to pull off the field for a long while Thursday but ultimately fell short in their second match — a four-set loss to Hume-Fogg.
Anderson County won the first set against Hume-Fogg but couldn’t hold in the 22-25, 25-23, 25-15, 25-21 defeat.
Still, the Lady Mavs finished the season with a Final Four appearance and 37 wins — the last of which came Thursday morning, 21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18, over Sullivan East.
CLASS A STATE TOURNAMENT
North Greene (21-16), which made its first state appearance since 2011 this week, met its season’s end 25-13, 25-8, 25-16, to Eagleville.
South Greene won an incredible three matches Thursday, eliminating 2020 runner-up Loretto in the third of those three matches by a 3-0 mark to advance to Friday’s championship against defending champion Summertown (43-4).