By JESSE SMITHEY
Experience proved invaluable in Anderson County’s volleyball TSSAA state sectional Thursday night.
Four players who had helped the Lady Mavericks run to a state runner-up finish in 2020 were on the floor again for Anderson County in its win Thursday over Tennessee High.
Those four players: senior Jayce Braden, senior Leah Freeman, senior Erin Cantrell and junior Anna Kay Smith.
Their know-how and comfort level with this round of the Class AA postseason helped the Lady Mavs win with ease. The intensity and pressure that come along with the elimination match didn’t faze them a bit.
Anderson County won in three sets — 25-15, 25-14 and 25-10 — to secure a third consecutive berth to the Class AA state tournament.
“Tennessee High is a great team. I think we just pulled through with our serving and our swings about midway through this game and took them out pretty quick. They (Tennessee High) did a good job. They came out and were prepared. And that’s a hard drive to make and then have to get on the court,” said Anderson County coach Jayme Smith.
“I think (experience) helps tremendously. We’ve gotten to host three (sectionals) now. Before that, we were the ones traveling up to Sullivan South every year. That makes a difference. The girls know what to expect now. They’ve had that experience. We’ve got four kids on the court who were there last year. So that helps.”
Anderson County improved to 35-11 and will begin play in the Class AA state tournament on Tuesday at Rockvale High School in Murfreesboro, seeking the program’s first state title since 1999.
This will be the second year in a row that the TSSAA will play its state volleyball tournaments at satellite high school gyms in Rutherford County. Anderson County managed it well last season and is hopeful that familiarity breeds similar success this time around.
“Definitely more prepared, especially with what the atmosphere is going to be like,” said Smith. “It’s still a little frustrating that if, and when, we make it to that (Championship) Friday, the game is still at Siegel — at another high school. But, you know, it is better. It could be a lot worse.”
Smith and staff have battled over the years to get Anderson County back to a championship standard, and Smith said this team definitely has that mentality.
“I think this year is right up there with last year. They’ve gone in with the expectation that they’re just as good as last year and their opportunities and chances are just as big this year,” said Smith. “They kind of have an attitude that no one can stop them but themselves. That can be good and bad.
“But I think they want it. They have that belief that they should.”
The initial seeding Hardin Valley Academy began the Class AAA volleyball playoffs with truly wasn’t indicative of their ability level. Though the Lady Hawks entered the District 4-AAA Tournament last week as a 4-seed, that district is super deep with the likes of Maryville, Farragut, Bearden, Heritage, Lenoir City and William Blount.
So once HVA got second in the district tournament to sneak into the Region 2-AAA Tournament, it didn’t look back.
The Lady Hawks won a hard-fought Class AAA state sectional on the road in Johnson City on Thursday night, knocking off Science Hill (26-5) in straight sets.
HVA won those 25-23, 25-16 and 27-25.
“We actually almost had an injury that first set. So I had to throw in a couple players,” said HVA coach Joy Waller. “Just the fact that we came back — because we were down — and pushed through and won that first set, it just gave our girls a big energy boost to push on those next two sets.”
HVA survived a roller coaster of a final set. They trailed 13-10, then rallied to go up 21-18 and then found themselves down 24-23. Waller called timeout and calmed the team down, reminding them to just do “what they know how to do.”
“They did it. They relaxed,” said Waller. “And they got those last two points.”
Senior middle Emilia Hoppe, senior libero Kamryn Livingston and sophomore Tinsley Brown, who got the final two serves, proved to be clutch down the stretch.
HVA (32-11) will make its third state tournament appearance, having made previous trips in 2016 and 2017. They’ll begin play Tuesday at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro.
Waller said watching her players secure a state berth Thursday was “very emotional,” having watched them since their middle school days.
“I think the girls just want it. We have eight seniors on our team,” she said. “They’ve been on this team for four years now. And they want to push. They want to go as far as they can.”
(Editor’s note: to read about Maryville’s return trip to state … CLICK HERE.)
Anderson County was the lone Class AA area team to make it through and into the state field.
Gibbs‘ bid ended in straight sets at Sullivan East (21-7), falling 25-18, 25-10 and 25-11.
Alcoa dropped its sectional at Signal Mountain in three sets: 25-22, 25-10 and 25-12.
South Greene‘s storied program played spoiler to a Harriman program in the midst of a historic run.
Harriman (17-3) was making its first state sectional appearance Thursday night, but the Lady Rebels — who have five state runner-up finishes all-time — set the tone early. They claimed the first two sets 25-13 and 25-6.
South Greene didn’t let up, finishing off Harriman in the third set 25-13. The Lady Rebels will make their 16th appearance in a state tournament beginning Tuesday at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro.
The Webb School of Knoxville won six consecutive state titles from 2013-2018 but the Lady Spartans haven’t been back to state since. They’ll try to fix that on Saturday.
Webb will play at Father Ryan (16-6) for a spot in next week’s Division II-AA state semifinals.
Catholic’s Lady Irish (30-9) will play St. Agnes (15-6) on Saturday for a chance to go to the state semifinals. Catholic has three state titles (2008, 2015, 2017) and is looking for its 28th state tournament appearance.
Middle Tennessee Christian School will host the Division II-A and II-AA tournaments, Oct. 19-21.
Grace Christian and Concord Christian are vying for spots in the Division II-A field.
Grace (19-14) plays at Northpoint Christian (25-4) on Saturday while Concord Christian (19-13) plays at defending-champion Goodpasture.