DUNLAP, Tenn. -- Signal Mountain's volleyball team has adjusted well.
That goes for the Lady Eagles' move up in classification beginning with this high school season, because Thursday they won the District 7-AA tournament championship. It also goes for what they learned from the last time they faced Notre Dame, the district regular-season champion.
The Lady Eagles beat the Lady Irish 3-1 in the championship match at Sequatchie County. Game scores were 17-25, 25-12, 25-11, 25-16.
Signal Mountain (32-20) will host the Region 4 tournament Tuesday. The Lady Eagles will play the runner-up from the District 8 championship between Upperman and Livingston Academy, and Notre Dame will face that district's champion. The winners will play afterward for the region title.
Notre Dame and Signal Mountain split both regular-season district meetings, most recently the Lady Irish winning 3-0 on Oct. 4. Winning the first set Thursday, coupled with last Tuesday's development, may have been the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Lady Irish, regarding the district tournament.
"They adjusted quicker than we did," Notre Dame coach Tyler Baldanado said. "Obviously they figured out what we were doing last Tuesday when we beat them."
One thing that was evident about the Lady Eagles' revised plan was their setting for outside hitter Callie Hildebrand.
"We were going to set for her until her arm falls off," Signal Mountain coach Jennifer Redman said.
Hildebrand, who has committed to Gardner-Webb, responded with a season-high 25 kills and was selected the tournament's most valuable player.
"When she would see a block, what she did was rip it the other way," Baldanado said. "She was hitting it down the line. When we were deep, she'd hit it short. It was that type of match.
"We made a ton of errors on our part, we weren't being aggressive, and they played really well."
The Lady Eagles began asserting themselves with a 6-0 start to the second game.
Their longest run of the night came in the third set, starting with a kill by Hildebrand that tied it at 3. Shelby O'Quinn then went to server and Signal Mountain didn't relent until after it had pushed its lead to 17-3.
The Lady Eagles overcame Notre Dame's 6-1 start in the fourth game. They took the lead for good at 15-14, which started a match-clinching 11-2 finish.
The district championship marked the third in a row for Signal Mountain, which won the Class A state championship last season. Redman said that experience for her returning players is invaluable.
"I just think our seniors really wanted to win," Redman said. "When our seniors are focused and determined, this is what happens.
"They know pressure and know how to handle it."
Paige Scudder led Signal Mountain with 31 assists and Allie Jennings led with 24 digs. Four of O'Quinn's five aces were in the lengthy run in the third set.
Mary Cate Howard paced the Lady Irish with 11 kills, and Catie Ward served three aces. Alex Guidi led with 32 assists and Angie Marini had 25 digs.
• District 6-AA: At East Ridge, Red Bank won its third consecutive district championship, beating East Hamilton 3-0. Game scores were 25-18, 25-20, 25-23.
Lady Lions coach Christel Brooks said her team was continually overcoming slow starts in each game. Red Bank will host the Region 3 tournament Tuesday.
"Our experience helped us execute at the ends of each set," said Brooks, who guided teams to the last two state-championship matches, winning the title in 2009. "I'm pleased with how we played, but East Hamilton played us tough. I know 3-0 is 3-0, but each set was a battle."
Among the leaders for Red Bank (33-15) were Savannah Nelson with 18 kills, Abby Graham with 31 assists, and Chafelmer Mumba and Ansley Helton with 12 digs each.
East Hamilton (29-10) was led at the net by Elizabeth Behrend's 11 kills. Briley Considine had three aces, and Sydney Harris set for 15 assists and had eight digs along with Katie Loftin.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.