The tradition of championship volleyball runs deep at Shady Spring High School.
Prior to last season, the Lady Tigers had won five state championships including three straight titles from 1992-1994, as well as back-to-back crowns in 2002 and 2003.
In the wild and crazy season of 2020, Shady Spring overcame all the obstacles and distractions to bring home its sixth state championship in dominant fashion.
The Lady Tigers did not lose a single set in the postseason.
“Last year’s team had to deal with so much stress and anxiety. Not knowing week to week if we were going to play or not play due to Covid. They also did not know individually whether they would be able to play,” Shady Spring head coach Kelly Williams said. “We went weeks without practicing or playing. To actually get to the state tournament, compete and then win it all, that was a huge compliment to the girls and their hard work.”
In the 25 wins last year, Shady Spring surrendered just one set along the way to Class AAA runner-up George Washington. The two regular season losses were to AAA champion Musselman and perennial AA power, Philip Barbour.
The loss to the Lady Colts came in the third match of the season.
“When Philip Barbour kicked our tail in that first match, it was an eye opener,” Williams admitted. “We had people in positions they had not played. We had girls that were brand new to the floor. It was an eye opener that it wasn’t going to be an easy road and we had to keep working. In order to be the best, we had to come out every day and perform.”
Shady would eventually avenge the loss to Philip Barbour in the AA championship match and finally get over the hump after coming up empty on three straight trips to the state tournament.
“I feel like they had something to prove. We kept getting to the state tournament, but we weren’t able to finish,” Williams said. “It kinda stung each year when we didn’t end up where we wanted to be. The fact that the girls had played together for so long really helped. They really put their minds to it and worked really hard.”
Now the Lady Tigers will look to join the other championship teams which earned back-to-back titles. Although Shady Spring returns an incredibly strong nucleus, 2021 is a new year with new challenges.
“We will have to shore up our defense for sure. We are going to miss our all-state libero Brooke Pressley in the back row on serve-receive and defense,” Williams said. “We also lost a great setter in Chloe Turner and a middle blocker in Ashley Farruggia. Those girls did a wonderful job stepping in and playing their role and being great leaders. I cannot talk about that enough. Those girls were great leaders.”
Three all-state players return as the team’s foundation including senior setter Kelsie Dangerfield, along with two explosive junior hitters in Chloe Thompson and Meg Williams.
“They are the three amigos. When they set foot on the floor they are very determined,” Williams said. “They work hard, put in the work after hours and it shows. Offensively, we still have our hitters in the front and we have some hitters coming up that are just as strong.”
Also returning for Shady Spring is Peydon Smith who possesses a dynamic serve, along with Aly Holdren who Williams describes as the team’s “Steady Eddy.”
“Camille Testerman is a lot stronger defensively than she was last year and she is more confident,” Williams said. “Braylie Wiseman is looking to see some playing time in the front row. Karlie Dotson and Haley Sweeney are always working hard too.”
Olivia Turner and Morgan Evans provide further depth to an already deep roster.
“Olivia is a dedicated and hardworking all around player. She will do anything you ask her with a smile on her face. Morgan is a four year player and a solid defensive specialist.”
Just like last season, Williams will put her girls to the test with a rugged schedule.
“Our schedule was tough last year. We tried to put ourselves in places where we had to compete. If we lost, we lost, but we had to learn from those losses,” Williams said. “This year we are going to George Washington for the Queen of the Hill Tournament. We play in the Shirley Brown Tournament at Woodrow Wilson and we will be playing Philip Barbour on a Saturday. We also go to Musselman on October 30. We have some tough matches scheduled.”
With the official start for volleyball less than a month away, Williams is using the open period for coaches to work with players prior to the regular season for one specific purpose – chemistry.
“The goal the next two weeks is for the girls to get to know each other, learn to play as a team and get along as a team,” Williams said. “You don’t have to necessarily be friends off the court, but as soon as you put your feet on the court, you have to be part of a team. It is one unit. I think I have learned over the years that until you have everyone all together, it doesn’t work. You can have the best players on the floor, but if you can’t get them all to play together, it will not work.”