Shady Spring has made trips to the WVSSAC State Volleyball Tournament look routine over the past few seasons.
This year was no different.
Compiling a record of 50-4-1 which included five straight postseason wins without dropping a set, the Tigers are now eying a second state championship title in the last three years.
The quest for the top spot in Class AA begins Wednesday morning inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center when No. 1 seed Shady Spring battles No. 8 seed Frankfort.
“It is amazing to head back to the state tournament this year. This team has really come together,” Shady Spring head coach Kelly Williams said. “I think we are playing our best ball right now as a matter of fact. I hope they realize how blessed they are. There are thousands of girls that would love to be them right now. To see them get one more shot at the state title is awesome.”
Although the Tigers have made state tournament trips a foregone conclusion of late, the 2022 season had its challenges along the way.
Sure, Shady was returning two of the best players in the state, regardless of class, in seniors Meg Williams and Chloe Thompson, but graduation had hit the Tigers hard.
New players and new positions begged the question, could the Tigers put the new pieces together to maintain their dominance?
“It was a little nerve-racking at times, but these girls have been together for a while. They traveled to middle school games and watched those games. Some of them play on the same travel teams, so they saw each other on the weekends,” Williams said. “I think over the years, and this year is no different, the girls have opened their arms and invited them in. They understand what it is to be a champion. To be a champion you have to have that part.”
Freshman standout Reagan Mann and sophomore Haley Sweeney took on the daunting role of filling the gap at the setter position.
“I definitely had some big shoes to fill. (First team all-state setter) Kelsie (Dangerfield) was a phenomenal setter. It was a lot of stress at first, but I feel like the (team) environment here was the difference,” Sweeney said. “Everybody made me feel good and made me feel like I could do (the job). I knew it was going to be difficult at some points, but for the most part it was good.”
For Mann who is also a booming outside hitter, it was an even bigger challenge to help at the setter position.
“I worked as a setter in club ball. I kind of knew what to do, but it was different being with a different team,” Reagan Mann said. “It wasn’t real hard to get used to, but it was definitely a challenge.”
Having an older sister on the team, Rachel Mann, made the adjustment to the next level a little easier for Reagan, but her work in the off-season was also a bigger factor.
“This is a very welcoming team and we all get along really well. It wasn’t hard to gel with them,” Reagan Mann said. “Playing Club ball helped a lot because I played 17U against older girls. That helped me with the speed of the game and getting used to that really helped.”
Everyone on the team prior to the season understood there would be an adjustment period and it was not always a smooth ride.
“It really has been a roller-coaster. We hadn’t all played together before and we have freshman on the team. Even when Meg and Chloe were in eighth grade we didn’t all play together,” Sweeney said. “It was something we had to work on, but we got better at it throughout the year.”
A comeback win against Morgantown, the No. 2 seed in the Class AAA division, was the final drop of glue as the Tigers headed to the postseason, but Shady still has had some adversity to weather.
In the second match of the postseason, junior starter Camille Testerman was sidelined with an injury.
“The ball hit off the top of my finger and knocked it sideways,” Testerman recalled. “It was dislocated in two places and I shattered the bone. It kind of pushed my finger down and shattered it.”
Testerman sat out the remaining sectional matches and both regional contests, but that won’t be the case Wednesday.
“I am excited to be on the court, but definitely a little nervous. My finger is making the nerves a little more conscious,” Testerman admitted. “I came in yesterday and worked a little bit. It didn’t really seem to bother me. Obviously blocking makes me a little nervous since that is how I hurt it. The doctor said it was up to me. He recommended that I don’t play, since it is shattered. My parents decided it was up to me and I wanted to risk it and just play.”
Now Shady Spring has one more hurdle to jump with the new players adjusting to the wild state tournament environment.
“Playing in the state tournament is very nerve-racking, but it was a really cool experience and a lot of fun,” Rachel Mann said after playing her first tournament last year. “Nothing is like the state tournament. It so different the way the floor is and the crowd is so big. It’s like the place is huge.”
Testerman will be making her third trip to the big dance and she echoed Mann’s words.
“Very, very nerve-racking and the stress level is really high. It’s really fun once you are in the game. It takes a couple of points to get in the game and get your nerves to calm down a little bit,” Testerman said. “We have been working on staying calm all year. Some of us have been exposed to that environment and we are prepared for what we are going to be exposed to.:
The Shady Spring and Frankfort match will follow the clash between No. 5 Wayne and No. 4 Herbert Hoover which starts at 8:30 a.m.
“The nerves will be there, but they can also calm those nerves knowing that they have been there and have been successful. Of course, the atmosphere will be completely different. Hopefully they understand that comes with it and they can have tunnel vision and focus on their job,” Williams said. “They are used to ball bouncing everywhere, but the lights and the flashing LED lights are something you can’t miss. Hopefully they relax and play like they can play.”
A win over Frankfort would move Shady Spring into the semifinals Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. against the Hoover and Wayne winner.