Red Bank had it all the way, or so it seemed after two sets in Thursday's TSSAA Class AA volleyball state sectional at Signal Mountain. But to use Lionettes coach Christel Brooks' term, "The tide turned."
Signal Mountain stormed back and forced a fifth set, which was so close there were only three leads as high as two points. The first two of those belonged to the Lady Eagles, but the only one that mattered was the last one, and it belonged to Red Bank.
The Lionettes will be making a return trip to the state tournament in Murfreesboro next week after escaping with a 3-2 victory. Set scores were 25-16, 25-15, 20-25, 17-25, 16-14.
Red Bank (38-9) finished third in the state last season after a runner-up finish the year before. The Lionettes were state champions in 2009.
Yet none of that history mattered to the Lady Eagles, not even down 2-0. Each coach had a message for her team at that point.
"I told them after the second set, 'Signal Mountain is not going to lay down,'" Brooks said. "They fought us tooth and nail. They were like a different team. I feel very fortunate to come out of here with a win. Luckily we held it together. We fought right with them, especially that last game."
Signal Mountain coach Jennifer Redman said the rally was the best her 20-26 team had played this season.
"I told them 'We're the underdog. Keep fighting hard and good things will happen,' and they did," Redman said. "Red Bank played well, too. I can't take anything away from them.
"They've got three strong seniors. They didn't want to lose right here. The good thing is we have one senior."
One of Red Bank's seniors is Savannah Nelson, for whom Brooks called a play during a timeout down match-point in the fifth set.
"She's the most consistent," Brooks said of Nelson, who came through with one of her 26 kills.
Shelby Hayes gave support with 23 kills, and the other senior, Ansley Helton, had eight kills and a team-best 28 digs. Hannah Wilson led the Lionettes with six aces and Abby Graham had 60 assists.
Taelor Kellum sparked the Lady Eagles' comeback and finished with 21 kills. Shelby O'Quinn led with 19 digs and five aces and added 13 kills. Outgoing senior Lana Bednarczyk contributed 17 digs.
Other leaders for Signal Mountain were Laura Holland with five blocks and Carolynn Thielges with 44 assists.
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.