The Black-and-Gold rose to the occasion with 16 “fire in the hole” aces and welcomed East Hamilton to District 5-AAA competition with a hard-fought, five-set battle that took the wind out of the Lady Hurricanes.
“East Hamilton is a great team, a well-oiled machine, but our girls rose to the challenge and even though we went with a different setup tonight, they responded and didn’t get down when thing got tough,” declared coach McElhaney. “We got a good, overall team contribution, but Becca (Reuter) really stepped it up and provided some great senior leadership tonight.”
“Hopefully this will give us a good boost going into Walker Valley Thursday night,” she added. “It is always a tough match when we play them.”
In its season opener, Walker Valley knocked off perennial district power Soddy-Daisy Tuesday evening.
Still playing without all-state senior Brooke Copeland (recovering from elbow surgery), Bradley bounced back from giving away a 26-24 defeat in the opening set with 25-17 and 25-16 wins in the next two. After the Lady ’Canes evened the match in a 25-19 fourth game, the Bearettes closed out their second victory in as many nights with a 15-9 tally in the tie-breaker.
“We lost our focus at the end of the first game and let them (EH) come back, but our girls shook it off, came right back and won the next two games,” commented coach McElhaney. “Even after they (EH) were able to even the match, our girls once again stepped it up and took care of business.”
Bradley (2-0, 1-0 District 5-AAA) raced out to a 6-2 and 10-4 early lead in the opening set and stretched that advantage to 22-14 after back-to-back aces by junior Lisa Duvall, but then the bottom dropped out.
East Hamilton (1-1, 0-1) showed why it had been to the last two Class AA state tournaments, scoring 12 of the game’s next 14 points, including the final five, to rally for a 26-24 win.
After changing sides of the court, the two teams battled tooth-and-nail in Game 2 with three lead changes and four ties in the first 21 points. Trailing 12-10, the Bearettes went on a 12-2 run to once again lead 22-14, like they had in the opener.
After regaining serve, EH was able to try to start another rally with back-to-back push points by Emma Lenoir to pull within five, but Bradley ended the threat with a kill by sophomore Natalie Jennings and an ace from junior Chanler Grady to even the match.
The Lady ’Canes blew out to a big lead in the third set, going on top 9-4 and 11-5, but once again Bradley exploded on a 13-1 streak, behind nine service points, including a pair of aces, by sophomore libero Breelee Arms.
Down seven, EH pulled to within 20-15, before Bradley finished off the set with a 5-1 run, including a big spike by junior Lisa Duvall and key block by sophomore Monica Johnson.
The teams battled evenly for the first 14 points before the Lady ’Canes turned up the intensity with an 11-3 roll. Bradley responded with back-to-back aces by junior McKenna Stinnett as part of a 5-0 run to close the gap to four points. EH answered with seven of th game’s final 11 points for a six-point win to force the tie-breaker.
Like the rest of the match, the final game was a seesaw battle to begin, with Bradley edging up 4-3 early on before Reuter served up three straight winners, including an ace for a five-point lead.
EH was able to pull within two points of the lead twice (9-7, 11-9) but the final four points of the evening belonged to the home team with consecutive kills from Jennings and Reuter, an ace by sophomore Julia Gaither and a double block by Reuter and Jennings to close out the victory.
Reuter finished the night with 20 kills, 15 digs, 3 1/2 blocks and a pair of aces. “Becca isn’t normally a vocal leader but tonight she pushed the team, played great defense and did what you need a senior to do in that situation,” praised coach McElhaney.
Duvall helped out with 16 digs, nine kills, four aces and 2 1/2 blocks, while Grady handed out 16 assists, five digs and a couple of aces.
Gaither dug out 20 shots, downed four kills and served up two aces, while Stinnett garnered 11 assists, three aces and a pair of digs. Arms collected 13 digs and a trio of aces, with Johnson blocking three EH shots.
“We used a different rotation, more of a triangle, tonight and it upped our game a lot,” coach McElhaney related. “We had four or five of our older girls step up, plus we used a smaller rotation of just nine players. Rachel Garrett stepped out of the libero and into a blocker/hitter role and did well.”
The junior varsity match was just as exciting with EH rallying to take the opening game 26-24, but Bradley bounced back for a 25-21 win in Game 2. The JV Bearettes sealed the victory by scoring nine of the first 10 points of the tie-breaker before posting a 15-8 final.
Bradley claimed a close JV victory over Polk County Monday evening by scores of 25-22 and 26-24.