Locked in what suddenly had become a tense battle with Columbia Central, Ooltewah senior Sloan Sullivan wanted the ball in the fourth set of the state sectional volleyball match Thursday night.
Playing for the final time this season on their home court, the Region 3-AAA champion Lady Owls were just one point away from a return trip to the state tournament when the ball was perfectly set for Sullivan. She unleashed her final kill of the match, and the celebration began for the Lady Owls.
Ooltewah earned its seventh state-tournament berth by scores of 25-23, 25-13, 20-25, 25-16.
"I had been struggling some and not having my best night," said Sullivan, who totaled 13 kills and 11 digs. "They got in our heads a little bit, but we came back in that fourth game. It was my senior season and I wanted to make the game-winning kill. She got the ball to me, and it was a great feeling."
Despite having defeated the Region 4 runner-up Lady Lions two weekends ago in Brentwood's tournament, Ooltewah coach Elaine Peigen had prepared her team for the greater intensity of sectional play. The Lady Owls (44-10) took control late in the first set, dominated in the second and held a 10-7 lead in the third before Columbia staged a comeback.
"It's always different playing two out of three instead of three out of five," Peigen said. "We knew it was going to be a good match, and we still wanted to do what we could to avoid that third-game letdown.
"It was a great all-around effort from everyone. This is a group of young ladies who like each other and they play well together. We're excited about going back to the state."
Courtland Ison had 16 kills and seven blocks and setter Hanna Matthews seemingly was everywhere, registering 48 assists and 11 digs for the Lady Owls.
Columbia (32-13) was led by its senior captains. Maya Horner had 17 kills, 14 digs, three blocks and two aces, while Hanna Slatton had 19 kills and Lexie Duncan had 40 assists and seven blocks.
"We had a chance to win in that first game. We came close in that one, and in the second game we dug ourselves a hole," Columbia coach Laken Stutts said. "In the third game, they realized the season was on the line and they fought really hard. I am proud of them."
Contact Greg Thompson at email@example.com.