“I told the girls to not let the emotion of the rivalry affect their play,” the veteran coach explained. “Anytime we face Bradley or Walker Valley, it’s always hyped up. We wanted the girls to focus on playing our game.”
That’s exactly what the Lady Raiders did in a 3-1 victory — 25-21, 19-25, 25-19, 25-17 — to remain unbeaten on the young season.
Cleveland will travel to the north end of the county to face Walker Valley Thursday evening, while Bradley will host McMinn County.
For Bradley, which finished second at the Bradley Bash over the weekend, it was a second straight loss to a county rival, having fallen to Walker Valley on Thursday.
“We realize Bradley is down with some sickness and it won’t be the same when we face them again, but this is still a good win for us. I’m proud of the girls,” commented coach Flowers.
The Bearettes are still without 6-foot-2 All-State performer Brooke Copeland, who is recovering from two elbow surgeries and may not be able to return before the season is over.
“I’m doing physical therapy three times a week and I feel fine, but the doctor is talking about not releasing me for possibly four months,” Copeland related after warming up with the team but sitting out the match. Depending on her recovery results the University of Florida basketball commitment may be questionable to start the hoops season.
Bradley’s other “Twin Tower,” 6-foot-3 Rebecca Reuter, who has committed to play basketball for Middle Tennessee, missed the weekend tournament with the flu and was not 100 percent Tuesday, rotating out of the match several times.
The crosstown match began and ended the same way, on hard spikes by Lady Raider Marissa Langford, the first of which keyed a strong start for Cleveland (4-0, 2-0 District 5-AAA), which scored the first four points.
Never trailing in the opening set, back-to-back aces by KK Clement gave the hosts a 13-7 advantage, which later grew to 23-16 before Bradley made a late run.
Behind the serving of sophomore Julia Gaither, the Bearettes closed the gap to 23-21, but a kill by Alison Botts gave the Lady Raiders back the serve and allowed them to close out the first game on Clement’s next serve.
The roles were reversed in the second set as Bradley (2-2, 1-2) trailed just once, after the opening serve. Reuter served up consecutive aces to help push the lead to 8-3 and then later hit a dink and added a block as the tally went to 14-9.
The Lady Raiders fought back to even the score at 17-all on an ace by Langford, but the Bearettes answered by scoring eight of the game’s final 10 points, including the final four service points coming from junior Noa Williams. Reuter closed out the set with one of her dozen kills on the evening.
After the visitors scored the opening point of the third set, Cleveland’s Addie Strode keyed a 9-1 run with five straight service winners.
Reuter answered with back-to-back aces to close the gap to three points, but the hosts came right back with an 11-5 streak to put the game out of reach.
The Bearettes did use an 8-3 run of their own to slice a nine-point deficit to just four, but that was as close as they would come.
After the teams evenly split the opening 10 points of the final set, Cleveland’s Kellee Geren got on a service roll with a trio of aces, along with four Langford kills, mixed among a dozen straight service winners.
Down 18-5, Bradley fought back with a 12-5 run of its own, with a string of four straight winners by freshman Hallie Hughes, closing the gap to just six, but the hosts were able to get the serve back and set up Langford for her 18th and final power slam to close out the match.
Langford had 18 digs to go with as many kills, plus she had eight service receptions, two blocks and a pair of aces. Geren handed out 31 assists, dug out nine shots, and had four kills to go with her three aces.
With starter Eva Wilhelm out, Kayla Lee put on the libero jersey for coach Flowers and delivered with 30 digs, 27 receptions and an ace. “We missed Eva’s leadership, but Kayla stepped in and did a great job,” the coach praised.
Clements helped out with nine digs, nine receptions and a pair of aces, while Addie Strode had five digs, a pair of kills and two aces. “”KK and Addie have both been serving great this season,” coach Flowers commented. “I’m very proud of the way we played tonight. It was a good group effort.”
Lauren Lee collected a dozen receptions and seven digs in the victory, while Lauren Borst returned 10 serves, slammed a trio of kills, and had an ace and a block.
Botts finished with nine digs, seven receptions and five kills, while Aneisha Barber put down five winners as well, blocked a couple of shots and dug out a half dozen balls.
For the Bearettes, Reuter added seven digs and 6 1/2 blocks to her 12 kills, with Gaither digging out 21 shots, adding a half dozen kills, a block and an ace.
Hughes finished with seven assists, three digs, a pair of aces and a half a block, while Williams had 13 digs and an ace.
Natalie Jennings helped out with four blocks and a pair of kills, with Chandler Grady handing out seven assists and five digs. Lisa Duvall collected 15 digs, a half dozen kills and an ace.
The rivals split the two early matches, with Bradley winning the freshman battle 25-17, 25-18, while the Lady Raider junior varsity prevailed 25-17, 25-13.