Trailing in a fifth-set match point Wednesday night at home, the GPS volleyball team handled the pressure-packed moment against East Hamilton to beat a program hoping to make a third straight trip to the Class AA state tournament next month.
Chapel Cunningham rose high at the left side of the net for back-to-back kills to help the Bruisers close the door on their fourth straight win, and her shot placement was exceptional in the match. The junior finished with a season-high 17 kills and broke a tie late in a bounce-back second set with consecutive aces to the back left corner.
GPS (13-9) won the match by the set scores of 11-25, 25-22, 25-23, 18-25, 17-15.
"We knew to win this match it would take a lot of fight, and East Hamilton was going to stay up against us," Cunningham said. "I know if I do my job, everybody else will do theirs and we can create good energy. I also look up to Preslee (Brooksbank) a lot. She is a great leader and has helped us out a lot this season."
Brooksbank scored four straight points for GPS in the tiebreaking finish and led all with 19 kills.
The Bruisers shook off their early errors and also received a spark from sophomore Ansley Blevins, who helped seal the third set with two big blocks and one of her nine kills.
Former University of Tennessee volleyball player Jasmine Brown was thrilled with her team's will to win as GPS followed a five-set victory against Chattanooga Christian last week with another exceptional finish.
"I tell my girls all the time we are in it for the long haul," the coach said. "Five sets is always fun, but it is not easy and to win games like this provides great momentum. Chapel has excelled as a six-rotation player for us and has been doing a lot of things well for us. Her play was crucial tonight, and I am proud of all our girls."
East Hamilton (10-4) looked every part of a state contender again as sisters Madison Hayes and McKenna Hayes fired missiles over the net. One of the top basketball recruits in the country, senior Madison Hayes did a little bit of everything and finished with 16 kills, 22 digs and three blocks.
The Lady Hurricanes' blocking duo of Madison Allen and Hillary English provided 17 blocks, and Allen had eight kills while English produced 43 assists and four aces.
"East Hamilton has a great volleyball team," Brown said. "They have some big hitters and really strong blockers. They keep you on your toes and make you play good defense. They have a great volleyball team that made us fight for every point we could."
Kylie Barry and Brooksbank saved big hits off the floor against a high-powered offense as GPS had four players finish with at least a dozen digs. Faith Copeland had 48 assists and fed the hots hands for the Lady Bruisers.
"We all looked to each other in the fifth set and knew we had to fight," Cunningham said. "It took a lot, but we pulled it out and now have a lot of momentum."