Signal Mountain stepped up in classification this high school volleyball season, and from the Lady Eagles' postseason performance so far, it seems they're starting to step up their level of play.
Signal Mountain is coming off a two-year run of success at the Class A level that included last year's state title. Three days ago the Lady Eagles won their third consecutive district title and earned the opportunity to host this year's Region 3-AA tournament Tuesday.
Upperman faces Signal Mountain (32-20) at 4 p.m., Notre Dame will play Livingston Academy at 5:30 and the winners will play at 7 for the championship. Region finalists will move on to sectionals, where winners advance to the state tournament.
As the Lady Eagles' seniors, Maggie Garth, Callie Hildebrand, Allie Jennings, Carly Jonakin and Laura Powell have been part of the program's past achievements. They particularly helped lead the charge last week.
"It's like they kind of flipped a switch," coach Jennifer Redman said. "We had some of the best practices we'd had all season. The seniors know now at any time the season can end."
That means they know their prep careers would end.
"Winning the district was a team effort," Hildebrand said. "I think it helped that we had some good communication with the young girls. I remember I got in one of the girls' faces and told her, 'We need to pick it up.' There's no messing around right now."
Jennings agreed about the communication efforts between the ranks and thinks the message should be easily understandable.
"Last year I felt some urgency," she said. "I wanted to help the seniors win it."
The Lady Eagles also had a recent lineup change, necessitated by injuries to a couple of reserves. They've gone from a 6-2 setup to a 5-1, and now junior setter Paige Scudder plays all the way around, instead of back row only.
Redman said she tried the change in the Middle Tennessee Classic on Oct. 8 and decided to stick with it.
The Lady Eagles won the District 7 tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Notre Dame coming in. It didn't hurt that Hildebrand, their all-state outside hitter, raised her level of play. She had a season-high 25 kills against the Lady Irish in the title match.
"My setter was making me look good," Hildebrand said. "It took all of our efforts. The back row's passing was spot on. Paige's sets were spot on. They were the best they've been all year. All I know is that I was on. I was really seeing the court well. It was fun."
The Lady Eagles' goals haven't changed from last year, but they know the road to the top this season will be rockier.
Redman said the biggest difference in the jump in classification is that many more points have to be earned. She believes her players must continue to be aggressive, and handling receiving serves is a key if they expect to be region champions.
"The beginning of the year kind of started rough," Jennings said. "We had a lot of young girls coming up. Everybody has their mental breakdowns every once in a while. We've worked every day to improve on the little things. Now I think it's starting to show."