One more

Lady Rebels a win away from state

By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Farragut coach David Moore gave the Lady Admirals the weekend off and some words to think about after last week’s district championship loss to Maryville.

After the Lady Admirals avenged the loss with a win in Tuesday’s region championship match, the words, inadvertently, rang true for both teams.

"Sometimes kids think it (reaching the state volleyball tournament) is easy, but it’s not," Moore said.

Farragut got 23 kills for tournament most valuable player Kelsey Benorden to claim the region crown, 24-26, 25-20, 25-23, 25-22, at James Campbell Gymnasium. Holding up her end in a showdown of District 4AAA’s two big guns, Maryville senior Sarah Roberts countered with 23 kills, 10 points, five blocks and a pair of aces for the Lady Rebels.

The Region 2AAA championship keeps the Lady Admirals (47-9) home for tonight’s sectional match, a state tournament berth hanging in the balance. The Lady Rebels (36-10) will try to punch the program’s first ticket to Murfreesboro at Sullivan South.

It’s an obtainable goal, Maryville coach Angel Babelay said. As Moore alluded to, though, it’s not going to be easy.

"Every free ball has to mean something," she said. "You can’t wish things to happen or hope somebody else will make the play. You have to play every ball as if it were your last.

"We’re still in it. We still have a chance to reach our goal of going to the state tournament. I think when we play our level, we can play with anybody."

To earn that chance this evening, Maryville is going to need a big match from Roberts, Babelay said.

"It’s going to be really important that she’s ready to play and that her enthusiasm is up," she said. "She’s going to have to push them as best she can, and she’s done a good job with that."

Benorden is one of the district’s most feared hitters. To contain the Farragut ace in last week’s district tournament championship match, the Lady Rebels blocked the 5-foot-9 leaper at every turn.

The weekend off gave his star the fresh legs to hit over the block Tuesday, Moore said. Benorden’s firepower at net withstanding, it was her shooting from back of the 10-foot line that did the greater damage. Shots falling just in front of the outstretched arms of the Lady Rebels would add up.

"I don’t think we communicated as well as we did last time," Lady Rebel junior Abbie Harper said. "We weren’t blocking as well, either.

"She’s a good hitter. She’s going to get her points. Blocking her is the only way to contain her so she doesn’t overpower us."

With Roberts leading the way, Maryville appeared to answer Farragut on all fronts. Harper put Lady Rebel hitters in position for a big evening with 21 assists, adding nine points at the service line. Junior Paige Payne had 12 points, 12 assists and five kills in a strong statistical line. Senior Laura Coe had 11 points and three kills, sophomore Paige Alwood 10 points and five kills.

The close of Game 1 — with Benorden’s kill pulling Farragut within 24-25, only to be trumped by a Roberts’ blast a point later — said much about the back and forth between the two teams the last two seasons.

"We beat them five times last year," Moore said, "and any one of them could have gone the other way."

Maryville sophomore Holly Hammontree, with nine points at the service line and a pair of blocks Tuesday, hopes the Lady Rebels get one more shot at Farragut before season’s end, a rematch at state the only possibility. The trick, she said, is remembering what has brought them this far.

"I think we’ve been playing as a team," Hammontree said. "We just picked it up (last week), and we’re going to pick it up when we get to Kingsport (for the match with Sullivan South)."

A state tournament berth must be won in a gym where the odds and history will be stacked against them, Roberts said.

Sullivan South swept Maryville from sectionals in straight games a year ago. How the Lady Rebels approach the match
mentally will have more to say about the outcome than blocks or shot making.

"We need to believe that we can," Roberts said. "Last year we went up there and it was a totally new environment. They treat volleyball like we (Maryville) do football."

The Lady Rebels, she added, are ready for the challenge.

"Yeah, we’re ready," Roberts said. "We’re ready for anything."

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