Sale Creek High School volleyball team extends win streak to 30

Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Sale Creek volleyball is on a 30-game win streak and is 35-2 overall on the season. Head coach Erin Briner, far left, has now taken over the former spot her mother, Debbie Hill, held and helped the Lady Panthers program to dominance.

For some high school sports teams a 30-win season would easily be one of the best in school history.

At Sale Creek High School, the hype around the Lady Panthers volleyball program has grown enormous thanks to a current 30-game win streak that has produced a record-setting pace.

As a member of the 2011 Sale Creek team that won a program-record 49 games and was the first to advance to the TSSAA state tournament, head coach Erin Briner believes this year's roster has the potential to be the best yet.

Sophomore setter Karma Higgins (1,400 career assists) has set up a dominant and versatile offense that has spread the wealth around with seniors Ava Higgins (1,500 career kills) and McKenzie Parks along with juniors Enslee Norwood and Eisa Eilertson, a threat to spike the ball in an open spot on the floor at any moment.

"This group is so special. I truly feel like if they play to their ability they have what it takes to win our first state championship," Briner said. "Our blocking has been a big focus this year. To be on a 30-game win streak is great, but that's not our goal. We want to peak in late October and win a state championship.

"Our girls have put in the extra time and they have great chemistry from top to bottom. They love to be around each other and we love to be around them. We're making good strides and playing very consistent volleyball."

The Lady Panthers are 35-2 this season and have excelled against stiff competition.

  photo  Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Sale Creek senior McKenzie Parks, right, and Ava Higgins, left, have provided stellar leadership on the court for the Lady Panthers powerhouse volleyball program.

On their way to winning their first Choo Choo Classic title earlier this month, Sale Creek beat a 25-win Dalton team three times in a span of two days at Ooltewah High School. The championship finals showcased Briner's team's heart as they fought back from a 24-26 defeat in the first set to win the championship with 25-9 and 15-10 victories.

Ava Higgins stood out in the three wins over the Catamounts, registering 32 kills and four blocks. The star hitter came into Tuesday night with six straight matches with double-digit kills.

"We have stayed focused throughout all the success we've had," Higgins said. "We all have a good mindset and connection on the court together. We are a family. My success is aided by all the people who encourage me. I have great support and my teammates make things a lot easier on me."

Sale Creek has formed one of the state's most consistent volleyball programs over the past decade. If the Lady Panthers advance to the Class A state tournament this postseason -- they finished third in last year -- they will have made eight consecutive trips to state.

Parks has provided a fire for the team and has four matches with nine or more kills along with 10 in which she has had at least six kills. Her older sister, Ruthie, was a senior on the 2018 team that is the only Sale Creek team to ever reach the state finals.

"Playing for Sale Creek volleyball has been the most memorable experience of my life so far," McKenzie Parks said. "Being around the program and meeting the people here has been life changing. I couldn't have asked for a better experience."

The Lady Panthers fell just two points away from advancing to the Class A state finals last year as they lost 3-2 to Summertown, which went on to sweep Loretto.

Sale Creek has fared extremely well in highly competitive tournaments this season, which included a top-eight, gold bracket finish in the Showdown at the Sunsphere held in Knoxville and going 8-0 in the Rocky Top Classic at Sevierville. At neutral sites this season the Lady Panthers are 19-1.

"I feel like we are driven off how close we came last year," saidNorwood, who has 14 matches with at least six kills this season. "We feed off our seniors and they drive us. We want to win state so bad and want to do it for each other. But we have to stay humble and level headed. We have to stay grounded and keep outworking everyone else."

To go along with a top-notch attack, the Sale Creek defense has been led by Eilertson, who has 57 blocks on the season -- 13 of those coming in one game against Shelby County. Sophomore Kiley Blaylock has also been sharp with 53 aces and 163 digs, while Karma Higgins has had two games with 10 aces and has 86 overall.

"I think our girls realized the only team that should really beat us is ourselves," Briner said. "These girls love to play volleyball and love each other and want a state championship really bad. We have come really close in years past, so hopefully we can perform and accomplish what we have worked so hard for. The chemistry and buy-in this year has been different."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at

  photo  Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Sale Creek volleyball looks to advance to their eighth consecutive TSSAA Class A state tournament. Head coach Erin Briner, left, and her mother Debbie Hill, center, have been vital to the program's dominance.