For more than a decade in District 4AAA volleyball, it’s been Farragut - and everybody else.
The Lady Admirals have won nine of the 10 regular-season district titles since 2000, eight of the 10 district tournament crowns. Farragut has produced the district’s most valuable player every year but one since 1998, including the last seven consecutive.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Lady Admirals have reached the state volleyball tournament five times.
With the retirement of longtime coach Farragut coach David Moore following last season, many are sensing a changing of the guard in more ways than one when the Lady Admirals, under new coach Susan Davidson, visit Maryville’s James Campbell Gymnasium for a three-way match with the Lady Rebels and Heritage Thursday, Sept. 23, at 5. First-year Maryville coach Kellie Walker said who wins depends on which team for each shows up.
“It’s whoever’s on that night,” she said. “Right now, with our competition, we can’t have an off night.”
The Lady Rebels (16-8) are coming off a newly-minted Blount County tournament championship on Monday. Setter and tournament most valuable player Morgan Hall gave a masterful performance in distributing the ball to Maryville’s big hitters. It led to front-line players Lauren Lowery and Katie Clay joining Hall on the all-tournament team, along with junior libero Allison Barbee.
Throughout the round-robin event, the Lady Rebels displayed no shortage of size and hitting at the net, Miranda Maples, Caroline Jenkins and Tanesha Maultrie also impressive during their stints jumping onto Hall’s sets.
“They put up a huge block,” Walker said. “It’s just hard to hit around girls that tall.”
Maryville promptly dropped matches to district rivals Bearden and West the following night in Knoxville.
“A completely different team showed up (Tuesday) night as opposed to Monday,” Walker said.
The Lady Mountaineers lost to the Lady Rebels on Monday after having bested Maryville three times already on the young season. Tuesday, Heritage (20-6) got big matches from senior Janie Brackett and junior Samantha Scripter to subdue the same West and Bearden teams that swept the Lady Rebels.
“That’s the frustrating thing,” second-year Lady Mountaineer coach Lisa Collins said. “We’ve got to learn that when it matters, we’ve got to buckle down.”
That, she said, is how District 4AAA is likely to play out for the rest of the season.
“On any given night, it could be any one of five of us,” Collins said.
Moore had much to do with Farragut’s successes the last decade.
“I can’t take anything away from David,” Collins said. “He did a tremendous job.”
It just wasn’t the only reason the Lady Admirals became so dominant. A well-entrenched, club-team system has been up and running in West Knoxville for many years. It’s only recently teams from Blount County have begun to close the gap in that regard. For the first time, every Lady Mountaineer on the roster this season plays for an area club during the offseason, Collins said.
“This is what we need to do to get to that level,” she said.
There’s little question concerning the impact of club volleyball the last decade, Walker said.
“Volleyball is developing more and more in this area,” she said. “Girls are getting more involved, and they’re playing club.”
Amplifying just how up and down league play has been this season, the Lady Rebels have already beaten the Lady Admirals once this season. The Lady Mountaineers, on the other hand, are still looking to break through.
William Blount first-year coach Chris Merritt said he doesn’t see the unpredictable nature of play within the district changing much between now and postseason.
“We have a good little team,” he said. “We’ve been up and down. We got off to a great start, but we’ve been up and down the last two weeks.”
The Lady Governors (18-9) defeated Alcoa during the county round-robin before falling in matches to both the Lady Mountaineers and Lady Rebels. All-tournament selection Lora Raper had an excellent three matches for William Blount, but the consistency the district’s teams are seeking during the season’s second half just never materialized, Merritt said. If the Lady Governors are to regain their early season form, players like senior Casey Cywinski will have to play a more assertive role, he said.
“We have struggled with our passing,” Merritt said, “and that’s what happened (Monday). In our district, we have a lot of good teams. It’s who’s going to show up that night.”
Collins has had every reason to expect that team to be Heritage this season. The Lady Mountaineers left a powerful impression on their coach with their play during a national tournament in Orlando, Fla., over Labor Day, where Heritage finished sixth in a powerhouse field.
“(Former Heritage coach) Richard (Norville) and I took a team down there one year, and we didn’t win a set,” Collins said. “Not a match, a set.”
Walker took the reins of the Maryville program this season from former Lady Rebel coach Angela Babelay, who stepped down after last season with a newborn on the way. Thing is, Walker, an assistant last season, was pregnant at the same time, daughter Jayden Walker arriving seven weeks ago, a week before Babelay gave birth.
The ups and downs of a volleyball season are nothing compared with the trials of motherhood, but then Jayden is largely on automatic pilot at this point. The Lady Rebels, to a large degree, are in control of their district volleyball fate.
“It’s going to be a battle that comes down to who wants it the most,” Walker said.
For more than a decade, that’s been Farragut - and everybody else.
All-Blount County Tournament Team: Named to the all-tournament team on Monday were Kylie Russell of Alcoa; Lora Raper of William Blount; Samantha Scripter, Taylor Stitt, Autumn Rickets and Janie Brackett of Heritage; and Lauren Lowery, Katie Clay, Allison Barbee and tournament most valuable player Morgan Hall of Maryville.