The turning point in Tuesday's District 5-AAA high school volleyball match at Soddy-Daisy was easy to spot.
Walker Valley and Soddy-Daisy had split the first two sets, and the host Lady Trojans led by four points late in the third. However, it was the Lady Mustangs who ended up winning that third set, as well as the next, and Walker Valley came away with a 3-1 victory. Set scores were 25-17, 14-25, 26-24, 25-19.
The third set was tight throughout, so Soddy-Daisy's 20-16 lead was the first four-point edge for either team in the set. The Lady Trojans again led by that margin at 23-19.
After a Walker Valley timeout, the Lady Mustangs returned to the court and scored five consecutive points. Once they got to set point a second time, they finished it.
"I think they just kept fighting," Walker Valley coach Judy Pruett said. "We weren't playing the best we can play. We've come over here to Soddy-Daisy and struggled for the last three seasons. This is probably one of the most hard-working teams I've coached in a long time."
Soddy-Daisy breezed in the second set after going from 10-9 to 19-9 behind the serve of Chloe Mitchell, who had one of her three aces in the match at the end of the run.
Coach Lorri Johnson said working on "finishing" will immediately become a top priority in practice.
"We finish game three and we'd still be playing," Johnson said shortly after the match. "The only smart game we played was game two. We had a game plan and we executed it in game two. We executed at times in other games, but in game two they knew what we were going to do and they couldn't stop it."
The match was the first of the season for Walker Valley, which was seeded fifth in last year's district tournament but had a regular-season victory over top-seeded Ooltewah. The Lady Owls, Bradley Central and Soddy-Daisy ended up tri-champions with 9-3 records. Rhea County changed districts, but East Hamilton, which qualified for the Class AA state tournament each of the last two seasons, has joined the league this season.
"Every team in our district is going to be a tough match for us this year," Pruett said.
Soddy-Daisy (1-1, 0-1) knows it still has 11 district matches remaining to try and make up ground.
"It could be anybody's," Johnson said. "It's not about where you are right now, but where you are in October. We've got a lot of tough tests along the way."
Walker Valley lost starting outside hitter Baylee Boen to an ankle injury early in the fourth set. Pruett praised the play of Nikki Prugh in her absence. The Lady Mustangs leaders were Madison Pruett with 14 kills, Abby Campbell with 19 assists and Alex Rominger with 17 digs.
Haley Reynolds topped the Lady Trojans with 17 kills and four blocks. Hannah Robertson and Lauren Smith totaled 27 digs apiece. Mitchell set 41 assists.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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.