At times this season GPS's volleyball team has been as high as outside hitter Tory Kemp's vertical leap. But just as gravity returns her feet to the floor, so have there been times when the high-flying Bruisers were brought back down to earth.
This past weekend GPS hosted the Tennessee Tandem tournament with help from Ooltewah and Baylor. Soddy-Daisy came away from GPS on Saturday as the Gold-bracket champion, defeating East Hamilton 27-25, 25-16.
The Bruisers, who went 6-2 in the Tandem with a win over Soddy-Daisy and both a win and a loss against Blackman, are 23-9 and have shown signs this season of being one of the TSSAA's pre-eminent teams. Their most notable accomplishment was two weekends ago at East Ridge when they won the Gold bracket of the Choo Choo Tournament. Like the Tandem, it was a two-day competition that began with 32 teams, many with state-tournament potential.
Next time out, though, GPS lost to Red Bank, which could contend for the District 6-AA title but came into the match with an overall record of 8-7. The Bruisers followed that with a loss to Battle Ground Academy, which was 19-25 last year, in their Division II-AA East/Middle Region opener.
"We seem to play to the level of the team we're going against," said junior setter and outside hitter Sadie Lett, who leads the team in assists and is second in kills. "The harder the team is, the better we play."
That observation explains why the Bruisers were able to beat region-leading Baylor in late August in an Early Bird tournament in the Knoxville area. But it doesn't make clear how they lost to the Lady Red Raiders last Tuesday, leaving GPS 15-6 overall and 2-2 in the league standings.
"It's definitely been a roller coaster," GPS coach Paul Brock said.
He's perplexed, and so are his players.
Kemp leads the Bruisers in kills, blocks and aces and is among the digs leaders. In addition to her statistical contributions, she's one of the team's four seniors.
"[Coach Brock] definitely looks at me to be a leader," Kemp said. "I'm out there about every point. What's been hard is when you play so well, then people kind of have expectations for your team. You can't play well as a team if one person is off. Keeping focused is our biggest issue. A lot of it is just our own mental strength."
Brock agrees there are some mental aspects for his team to work through to play more consistently, but there also are tangible areas.
"Stats tell you pretty much where your weak points are and what you need to focus on," Brock said. "For us it's ball control. It's serving and passing. If you don't do those two things well, you're not going to win."
GPS won't begin postseason play until mid-October and still could end up with a 6-2 region record.
Lett said despite anything that has happened, the Bruisers believe they'll be part of the state-tournament field. The identifying has been done. Now it's a matter of putting a plan in motion.
"We need to keep our focus and intensity and work on ball control," Kemp said. "We need to work together as a unit on the floor. If we just stay as a team and work together, work hard, we can be successful."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.