Gallery by Karen Akers
Sectional volleyball championship matches are often seen as meaningless with both teams already locked into regional play.
The battle Thursday night at Shady Spring High School between the Tigers and Herbert Hoover for the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 title looked far from meaningless.
The Tigers eventually came away with a 3-0 win for its fifth sectional title in a row, but the Huskies put up a state tournament type fight all the way to the end.
“I am glad that we didn’t treat this as a “why is this even necessary” game. We told them all year that every time they step on the court, regardless of who is across the net, we are trying to get better,” Herbert Hoover head coach Anita King said. “It doesn’t matter if it is a team as talented as Shady, or whether it is a team that is not quite as skilled. There are always things we can work on to get better. We are not underestimating anybody at regionals, but our goal is to get back to the state tournament and try to find a way into that championship match.”
Coming off a relatively easy win over Herbert Hoover Wednesday, Shady Spring again looked as if it might cruise to the sectional title with a 25-17 victory in set one.
The Tigers piled up 17 kills in the opening set led by seven from Chloe Thompson and five from Meg Williams.
Set two looked like more of the same when Shady vaulted out to a quick 7-2 advantage, but the visitors refused to roll over.
A kill by Ashton Henrich and two errors from Shady Spring later evened the set at 11-11 and the fight was on the rest of the way.
Still playing without starter Camille Testerman who was injured in the match Wednesday, the new pieces in the Shady line-up found themselves in a baptism by fire.
“They have been thinking all day long about not having Camille and I think it got to them a little bit. Everything is going to be fine, we just have to do our jobs and stay relaxed. I tried not to show too much high and low tonight and tried to keep everybody level,” Shady Spring head coach Kelly Williams said. “They have it in them, they just have to find it within themselves sometimes. Credit to Herbert Hoover. They are a great team and they don’t give up. They come to play and they come to win.”
After the timeout by Shady, the Tigers moved out to an 18-13 lead before Hoover rallied to within one point at 21-20. A pair of kills from Thompson and one from Williams moved Shady to within set point, but two kills from all-stater Sydney Shamblin and two errors from Shady tied the set at 24-apiece.
Shady regained the lead on a kill from Thompson, but an attacking error and a kill from Hannah Shamblin gave Hoover a one point lead with the serve.
However, the ensuing serve from Hoover was wide and Shady rallied to take a 30-28 win on Thompson’s eighth kill of the set.
“Usually in those tense moments is when (Meg and I) play the best. Even from our freshman year, we have had a lot of pressure on us,” Thompson said. “We know we can’t show the girls we are nervous. We have to be all business because if we start freaking out, they start freaking out. We are out there leading the best we can.”
Down 2-0 in the best-of-five, the Huskies came out swinging to take a 13-10 lead in set three before a pair of kills from Williams and an ace from Thompson helped Shady regain the lead which became Hoover’s last gasp.
With her team leading 18-16, Williams expanded the advantage with a blast before she stepped to the service line and served out the match which included four aces.
Both coaches lauded the state tournament type feel of the match, especially with different players on the floor getting much needed experience.
“You have the fans and the great game in front of you. Everybody wants to look like what did I do wrong at times. But when they came in the huddle I told them they were playing a great team and this is a good opportunity to see what we have and they were doing it,” coach Williams said. “It is not always going to be easy and you have to fight for every single point. Sometimes I think it’s good to have to fight through adversity like that to let them know they can do it.”
“We talked about some adjustments that we needed to make and things that worked when we played them last night,” King said. “We have a player sick that is not here tonight, so we had a (defensive specialist) on the court tonight that is not as comfortable, but what better way to improve than to come out here and face the best and have to rise up if you want to compete. I am proud of the kids.”
One of the difference makers for Hoover Thursday night was freshman middle blocker, Amelia Canterbury.
“The big thing for us tonight was our blocking got a lot better. It is not a very well know fact that (Amelia) just started playing volleyball in July when we started our three week period in Kanawha County,” King said. “She was the one putting down those big blocks. She has never played travel ball. I am super proud of her growth.”
While Williams acknowledged the strong play from sisters, Rachel Mann and Reagan Mann, along with Haley Sweeney, Alivia Stover and Kadence Stump, when it came to crunch time, it was the two seniors that made some huge momentum changing plays Thursday.
“I thought Meg did great on the blocks tonight and she dominated the net. Chloe is always a big hitter for us,” coach Williams said. “It is a testament to how much they want to win. I don’t think they take the whole burden, but they know the leadership end of it comes from them.”
Both seniors had positive words for their teammates who have weathered some unexpected adversity the last two days.
“It is good to know that you have that one person when you need a big point, but everybody is that person at some point,” Meg Williams said. “They are all definitely doing a great job considering they have been thrown in to different places. It was definitely exciting and different because we haven’t been in a scenario yet like 30-28, but it was fun.”
“I think it shows how diverse our team is. We faced a lot of adversity yesterday and today,” Thompson said. “We came early just to practice our line-up, so we are really stepping it up. This is crunch time. It was a little rocky tonight, but everyone that needed to step up did so tonight.”
Both teams advance to regional action Saturday at Independence High School. Shady Spring will play PikeView at 2 p.m., while Herbert Hoover will battle Wyoming East in the second match of the day.
The two winners will play for the regional title immediately following the Hoover and Wyoming East match.