Tough schedule toughens Lady Lions

Tough schedule toughens Lady Lions

August 31st, 2014 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

Red Bank players pull together as they work through a rugged nondistrict schedule, including this weekend's Choo Choo Classic they helped host.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/Times Free Press.

Red Bank's volleyball program is no stranger to playing a rugged schedule. Ditto for 2014.

The Lady Lions are among the 32 teams that competed this weekend in the 28th Choo Choo Classic high school tournament at Ooltewah and Red Bank. They finished 5-4, reaching the Silver bracket semifinals.

Farragut defeated Blessed Trinity in two sets for the Gold championship. Sullivan East and Elizabethton faced off for the Silver title.

Red Bank (2-0 in District 6-AA) now is 11-9 overall. On opening day the Lady Lions traveled to Baylor, where they lost to last year's Division II-AA state runner-up and to 2013 Class A state-tournament team Boyd-Buchanan, which on Friday in pool play ended Goodpasture's TSSAA record 85-match winning streak.

"We play a tough schedule," Red Bank coach Mandi Munn said. "From the very start we started the year off with Baylor, and Boyd-Buchanan has a good team, too. But as long as we learn from our mistakes, then I'm OK. You should learn from a loss. You learn to adjust and you don't allow the same mistakes to happen over and over.

"That's why we play Baylor on day one. That's why we get in the Choo Choo. That's why we also play in the Middle Tennessee Classic right before postseason. You're taking a chance doing that, because you don't want a key player getting hurt, but it gets you ready for district-tournament time."

Although Munn was tormented by her team's play the first day of the season, the players responded the next day by edging Central 3-2. The Lady Purple Pounders along with Hixson's Lady Wildcats appear to be Red Bank's toughest challengers in district play.

"I think playing the next day helped," Munn said. "It gave them a chance to redeem themselves.

Senior setter Rachel Thornbury is the team's leader in assists and was second in digs heading into the Choo Choo Classic.

"We just needed to refocus and come out and play as good as we can play," Thornbury said.

Munn said she believes she has a well-rounded team, which is sparked by sophomore middle blocker Marjorie Smith -- the team leader in kills, blocks and aces coming into the tournament. Senior outside hitter Caitlyn Jenkins, who was second on the team in aces and third in digs, said the Lady Lions know there's still work to be done in some areas.

"Our serve-receive can improve, especially when we have a tough server," Jenkins said. "A tough server is usually when they get a good run, and that gets you in a hole and then you have to push yourselves to get back into the game."

Senior libero Hannah Wilson is easily the team's digs leader. The other starters are senior outside hitter Allison Walker, junior right-side hitter Janie Smith and junior middle Dani Usher.

The Lady Lions play next in a district match Thursday at Brainerd. A week later they travel to Central for a rematch that this time will count in the district standings. They play at Hixson on Sept. 23.

"I think we can take the district title and the region title and make it back to state," Jenkins said. "If we go back, that will make it seven years in a row, and we don't want to break that. That's one of the seniors' goals."

And the other?

"The goal is you always want to improve," Thornbury said. "Plus make it to state. That's our long-term goal."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.