Things started bad for Baylor's Lady Red Raiders in the TSSAA Division II-AA state volleyball championship match Friday. Then they got worse.
St. Agnes Academy corrected a few things, particularly in the area of serving, from Thursday's loss to the Lady Raiders in the winners-bracket final. This time around the Stars defeated Baylor 3-0, by set scores of 25-13, 25-23, 25-19.
The repeat state title is the second in program history for St. Agnes, which advanced to the state tournament for the first time in 2010.
"This team I think is stronger than last year's," St. Agnes coach Ryan Wallace said "Mentally stronger and more prepared."
The most noticeable difference in the Stars' title-match performance -- compared to their 3-1 loss to the Lady Raiders, albeit all those sets were close -- was the increased regularity in which they got their serves in. And led by championship-match most valuable player Christina White, their hitting was equally effective Friday.
"I thought we needed to use our power and strength to our advantage and keep our serves consistent," Wallace said. "That was our downfall against Baylor the first time."
Baylor coach Sarah Lail was complimentary afterward of the Stars' serving and added that her team's blocking "just wasn't there today."
St. Agnes (31-6) built a 14-5 lead in the first set, then regrouped after a Baylor run of five consecutive points and pulled away.
There were seven ties and five lead changes in the second set. The last was when a Baylor serve landed out of bounds to make it set point and White followed with a kill.
In the third set the Lady Raiders again struggled to start well, falling behind 5-0 and ultimately 14-5 again. They did close to within two points four times -- the last at 20-18.
"Definitely it's hard once you get down to battle back against a quality team," Lail said.
"I know we were capable of playing better. I just wish we'd had a little more team chemistry out on the court. I don't know if it was nerves or if the big stage got to them."
Three of the statistical leaders on the season for Baylor (41-8) are freshmen. Gabby Gray added to her team lead in kills with 16, and classmate Lilly Turner added to her lead in digs with 19.
Sophomore Haven Bethune led in assists with 32. Rachel Ford, who played on two runner-up teams and two third-place teams in her Baylor career, totaled 10 kills, seven digs and three aces.
"This group played strong volleyball," Lail said. "We're excited to have such a young group of talent. I hate it for the seniors who worked so hard to support the team. We still have a very youthful team coming back. I hope they remember this feeling and work hard in the offseason to get back."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter 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 email@example.com.