There were no secrets Tuesday night when District 5 foes Ooltewah and Bradley Central squared off for the Region 3-AAA volleyball crown.
They battled for a fifth time this season, and Ooltewah came away with the upper hand for the third consecutive meeting with a 3-1 victory. Set scores were 22-25, 25-21, 26-24, 25-17.
On an evening when debates took the center stage nationally, there was absolutely no debate as to the turning point in the match, and region MVP Leondra Barrett made sure the Lady Owls were the beneficiaries.
All square after the first two sets, Bradley appeared poised to move within one of the championship before Barrett turned in the most impressive five minutes of the night. With Ooltewah down 24-18, Barrett had five straight kills and a block to make it 25-24 before Izabela Zdunek hit the game winner and claimed enough momentum to carry through the decisive set.
The Lady Owls (34-18) will host a state sectional Thursday, while Bradley (28-14) must visit the Region 4-AAA champ.
"My girls know if I'm hot," said Barrett, who had a dozen kills and 8.5 blocks. "Usually I try to occupy the middle blocker, but after the first one they just kept coming to me. We never gave up and we were determined."
Barrett got plenty of help as five other Lady Owls registered kills and the defense was able to contain Bradley's two-headed hitting monster of Rebecca Reuter and Brooke Copeland.
"I'm happy to be where we are," Ooltewah coach Elaine Peigen said. "Bradley is a great team, but I thought our serving tonight was big and our ball-handling was the difference. It was nice to see them show a lot of heart in that third game."
Her Lady Owls got off to a slow start as Bradley beat them more with finesse than power in the first set. The Bearettes were hurt with nine service errors in the match, and no matter how much Copeland and Reuter hit, the Lady Owls were able to absorb the blows with a spectacular defensive showing.
Kelsey Chernak (16 digs), Karly Newman (14), Sloan Sullivan (11), Josie Caine (9) and Zdunek (10) made floor space hard to find for Bradley's offense.
"We gave them too many opportunities tonight, and Ooltewah is too good of a team to allow that," Bradley coach Christy McElhaney said. "We have preached all year long about finishing games, and Ooltewah is not the sort of team you want to let hang around."
After rallying for the third-set win, Ooltewah looked in control throughout the fourth, breaking free from an 8-8 tie to stretch it to 20-14 before shutting the door.
Copeland finished with 20 hard-earned kills, and Reuter added 14. Kayla Arp had 32 assists and 14 digs in the loss.
Zdunek added eight kills along with 3.5 blocks for Ooltewah, while Courtland Ison added five timely kills and another 3.5 blocks.