Down a set and trailing late in the second one, Signal Mountain volleyball coach Jennifer Redman asked her players a simple question Thursday during a timeout.
"I asked them if they wanted their season to end right now," Redman said.
After screaming "No!" in response, the Lady Eagles backed up their word, rallying for a 3-1 victory over Central in a TSSAA Class AA state sectional at Signal Mountain. Set scores were 16-25, 27-25, 25-16, 25-20.
Signal Mountain (33-21) advances to the state tournament for the third time in the program's six-year history. Competition in Murfreesboro runs Wednesday through Friday.
Redman used her timeouts in the first set trailing 21-20 and 24-22. After the second, the only point the Lady Eagles allowed in the set was a kill by Tiffani Estep from the back row.
"I think the girls not finishing that game drug us down," Central coach Robin Moore said.
Junior Taelor Kellum, who has committed to Florida, was limited to one kill in the opening set. She finished with a team-high 14.
"I had to get in my back-row players' faces," Redman said. "I told them, 'If we can't pass, we can't set for the hitters.' It's pretty simple really. You pass; you set; you kill."
Sophomore libero Aryn Sanders, who has gained notoriety in basketball but is playing volleyball for the first time at Signal Mountain, had 16 digs. Hallie Hunt and Kira Carlton chipped in with nine and eight and, with fellow left-side hitter Kennady Collick (five kills, four digs), drew praise from Redman.
"All three stepped up big, whether it was serving, hitting or passing," Redman said.
Amanda Thielges was the assists leader with 21, and Kellum led in blocks with four.
Estep, headed to Shorter University, topped Central (28-13) with 21 kills and three blocks. Sam Scott totaled 15 digs and Lexi Ainslie led with 16 assists.
"I still think I have an incredible team," Moore said. "We just had too many unforced errors. You can't win a championship that way."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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.