Baylor's run of appearances in the Division II-AA volleyball state finals is over after three straight — but Lady Red Raiders coach Sarah Lail was proud of the fight her team displayed in a bid to take their streak to four.
Baylor fell 3-1 to Knoxville Catholic in the losers-bracket final Wednesday at Middle Tennessee State University, with the Lady Raiders winning the first set 25-23 before falling 25-15, 25-23 and 29-27. It came a day after Baylor's four-set victory against Harpeth Hall in an elimination match at Siegel High School, where earlier Tuesday the Lady Raiders lost their tourney opener in three sets to Briarcrest.
Six of Baylor's seven set losses against Briarcrest and Catholic came down to three or fewer points, though, and the Lady Raiders add a third-place finish in Murfreesboro to a four-year run that includes the 2017 state title and runner-up finishes last season and in 2016. Briarcrest, the Lady Raiders' opponent in each of those finals, will face Catholic for the title Thursday at MTSU.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to be at the same level as we have in years past," said Lail, whose team finished with a 30-10 record. "We graduated five seniors last year and broke in a brand new setter in Libby May as a sophomore. I couldn't be prouder of this team for beating the expectations and really rising up."
Baylor junior Elaine Redman was one of the tournament's brightest standouts as she totaled 59 kills and more than 40 digs. Her versatility is expected to help the team next season, when all but one starter should be back.
"We performed well and battled while we were here in Murfreesboro," Lail said. "I hope that fuels those young kids and our returners to come back even stronger. I often said if we didn't win it this year, look out, because next year we will be really dangerous."
Sierra Herndon, Tess Margio and Holland Moss are among the other key players expected back.
"The sky is the limit for these girls," Lail said. "Elaine is simply fantastic, and we have a lot of pieces around her to be excited about. A great offseason of training can take them to the next level."
East Hamilton's Lady Hurricanes finished third in Class AA for the second year in a row, falling in the losers-bracket final to Nolensville. Portland — which on Tuesday dealt East Hamilton its first loss at state — and Nolensville will play for the title Thursday.
The Lady Hurricanes (34-12) won more matches than any Chattanooga-area team in Murfreesboro this week as they went 3-2 and won two five-set thrillers over Anderson County on back-to-back days. With a spot in the title match at stake Wednesday, Nolensville beat East Hamilton 25-19, 20-25, 25-18, 25-22.
A talented senior class led by Hillary English, Jordyn Griffith and Madison Hayes finished its third consecutive run to state, leaving more for sophomore standouts Madison Allen and McKenna Hayes to build on next season for East Hamilton.
In AAA, Cleveland (38-13) lost its lone match Wednesday, falling 25-22, 25-16, 25-22 to Houston, but the Lady Blue Raiders finished in the top six. Houston will take on Brentwood for the title Thursday.