ATHENS — The last time Cleveland and Walker Valley met in the regular season, it was a battle to the finish as the Lady Mustangs pushed the Lady Raiders to five sets before a winner was determined.
Tuesday in the District 5-AAA volleyball championship it was another battle between the two teams, but this time the Lady Raiders took care of business in straight sets to bring the trophy back to Cleveland for the fourth consecutive year.
The Lady Raiders (31-11) fought to a 25-22 win in the first set and rolled to a 25-19 set two victory. The closer turned into another hard-fought win as Walker Valley made a late push before Cleveland closed it out with a 25-20 decision.
“It was awesome. We came in with a lot of energy,” said first-year Lady Raiders coach Amy McGowan. “We had a really good practice today with a lot of energy. The bench was really into it and everybody fed off it.”
The Lady Raiders once again followed the lead of Joy Douglass, who crashed 17 kills to the floor. Lily Oliver also stepped up finishing with 13. Brianna Daniel sent three aces over the net while Oliver provided two and Addison Hurst and Katie McGinnis came through with one ace each.
Ellliot Brock led the way in digs with 26 while Douglass booked 21. Brooke Eslinger ended her night with 14.
“We played hard. I think it would be disappointing if Cleveland wasn't as good as they are. Most of our miscues came from stuff they were doing well. They served hard so we struggled in serve receives,” said Lady Mustangs coach Aubrey Reagan.
“But, we battled. I don't think at any point we looked like we were done fighting or playing. That has been something we struggled with at the beginning of the season. I think we showed a lot of heart, a lot of fight. I'm not disappointed, I'm not upset — it just means we take a different route now to get where we want to go.”
The Lady Raiders scored the first point in all three sets and held an 11-4 lead in set one before the Lady Mustangs closed it to 17-13 late. Walker Valley kept the pressure on and were within striking range at 23-21 and were looking at a 24-22 score before an error gave the set to the Lady Raiders.
Set two was another close one early as Walker Valley played the Lady Raiders point-for-point before Cleveland broke loose for five straight points to go up 17-11. The determined Lady Mustangs were able to stay close, but were unable to get closer than five points before falling 25-19.
The Lady Raiders jumped to a 9-2 lead in the final set before Walker Valley closed the gap to 11-9. Cleveland broke away late to open up a 22-16 lead, but the Lady Mustangs fought back to make it a 23-20 game before a Walker Valley error and a kill by Oliver brought the night to a close.
McGowan said her team communicated well and was solid in the passing game, but admitted there is still much work to do before next week's region tournament opener against Rhea County, Monday at 6 p.m.
“I think that has to do with having a lot of energy. Before the game we were warming up well, we were talking and we were just ready to play,” she said. “It's not over by any stretch. We've got region next week and we are going to have to bring this same energy. I think they are ready for it.”
The Lady Mustangs will go against Cookeville at 7:30.
“It's not over. We have at least one more week together. That's what we wanted. We wanted to be together one more week and spend some more time together,” said Reagan. “The good thing is we are not at our ceiling, we are not done. We still have plenty of room to grow.”