published Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Whittaker, Silverdale post rare perfect set

Silverdale Baptist Academy pulled off a feat Saturday at East Ridge in the 26th Choo Choo Classic high school volleyball tournament that's comparable in team sports to an individual making a hole-in-one in golf, bowling a 300 or catching a fish on the first cast of the day.

The Lady Seahawks won the second and final set in their pool-play victory over Sequatchie County 25-0 with junior libero Kerri Whittaker registering every service point.

"They've got a good little team," Silverdale coach Rhonda Hawkins said of the Lady Indians. "It was a very rare thing."

Whittaker had plenty of help, but she also had 14 aces.

"It was definitely a team effort," Whittaker said. "We have some awesome hitters and they were taking advantage of some overpasses at the net. Everybody was doing their part. I felt a whole lot of nerves near the end, but we all came together as a team and kept it going."

Both Whittaker and Hawkins said it was a little past the midway point when they began sensing it was possible.

"She's a great server, so it didn't surprise me she could do this," Hawkins said. "She just kept serving and serving. I was taking stats in the book, and it just kept happening and happening. I tried not to think about it, tried to keep everybody calm and it kept getting later and later."

Unlike in baseball when generally teammates will avoid talking to a pitcher with an ongoing no-hitter, the Lady Seahawks apparently couldn't contain themselves. Whittaker said she could hear all the talk, which made it that much more nerve-racking.

"It got to point 24 and the girls out there were saying, 'We can't mess this up for her,'" Hawkins said. "Actually, Mackenzie Harris, who's our best hitter, got an overpass from the other side and, under control, went up and spiked it down for the 25th point. It was pretty amazing."

Adding to the specialty of the moment, Kerri's father, Tom, was on the floor calling lines during the match.

Hawkins played at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, which is where she met her husband, Mike, who is her assistant coach. This is their second year with the Lady Seahawks program, but previously they were involved with club volleyball and Mike has also done some high school and college officiating. They've never seen or heard of a set ending 25-0.

TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie said the state organization doesn't keep that type of record, but he added that he's never seen a 25-0 set at the state tournament, whereas he did see some 15-0 sets there before rally scoring was put into effect in 2003. He said it's probably happened, but he's unaware of it.

"I'd say it's a whole lot more rare than a 15-0 game under the old system," Gillespie said. "You get a powerful server who can get a lot of aces and you can go through 15-0. In rally scoring, you get one defensive stand and you get that point."

Before playing at UTC, Hawkins played at East Ridge for national Hall of Fame coach Catherine Neely, the Choo Choo Classic's tournament director.

"I've never heard of such a thing happening since rally scoring came into play," Neely said. "It's almost next to impossible. That's probably a record, or there have been very few of them."

So what does Silverdale do for an encore? Perfection can't be improved upon, only equaled.

"I'd love to," Whittaker said. "It was a great experience."

about Kelley Smiddie...

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 ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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