By TREY WILLIAMS
Just when it looked like McKenna Dietz and the Daniel Boone volleyball team’s district title hopes were taking it on the chin, the Trailblazers rallied for their first district tournament championship since 1998.
Boone rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Dobyns-Bennett, 23-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-11, in Thursday’s championship game at Volunteer High School in Church Hill.
Dietz exited the fifth set for four points due to a bloody chin. But bandaged and determined, she returned to help seal the deal en route to tournament MVP honors.
“They were able to get enough gauze and bandages to keep it from bleeding through, but she had to go get (four) stitches after the game,” Boone coach Chelsea Baker said. “She got MVP of the tournament and setter of the year in the conference.”
Boone not only rallied from a 2-0 deficit to D-B, but bounced back from two late-season losses in the process, including a loss at Science Hill in the regular season finale that denied Boone (28-5) a share of the conference title.
“It hurt when we lost to Dobyns-Bennett that first time and it hurt when we lost to Science Hill,” Baker said. “But we also realized, ‘Hey, it’s not over.’ I think it did light a fire under ‘em, like, ‘Hey, there are teams that are just as good as us and we have to fight to make it through it.’”
Dietz piled up 40 assists, 18 digs and four blocks. The fifth set was tied 1-1 when she left to tend to her chin. When she returned the ‘Blazers trailed, 4-2.
“At this point in the season the winning team has to have a never-give-up mentality, and I feel like we had that during the championship game,” Dietz said. “Coach Baker preaches to us on having high energy, and I feel like that pulled us through.”
Baker was especially proud of a stingy defense and the Trailblazers’ excellent reception of serves.
“Our defense was struggling, our serve-receive was struggling, especially those first two games,” Baker said. “And then something clicked the third game. Serve-receive picked it up and the blocks picked it up and we were able to get some offense going.”
Jaycie Jenkins complemented a remarkable 35 digs with 13 kills.
“She’s everywhere,” Baker said. “She can read what the hitter’s doing before anybody else. She’s just able to react.”
Added Dietz: “Jaycie plays aggressive in any sport. So it’s no surprise she is there to get all those balls up.”
Laken Jones contributed considerably to the stingy defense with 26 digs.
“Laken has had a phenomenal last three (matches),” Baker said. “She’s stepped up big time.”
Jenkins has tasted postseason success in basketball and softball.
“It feels good to bring home the title because it is so common to win in the other sports,” Jenkins said. “We went into the third set not intimidated and did not back down even though we were down two sets. McKenna missed four points during the fifth set. At that time Riley Brandon, a freshman, stepped in to set and did a great job.
“Allie Davis, also a freshman, came into the game and did a tremendous job. Laken Jones played big for us and had some great digs. McKenna has been doing a great job setting and all the hitters have been putting the ball down when they needed to. Our middles, Dannah (Persinger) and Greyson (Stevens) came up with big blocks during the tournament.”
Jenkins and Dietz help comprise a rare collection of players possessing liberal amounts of talent and intangibles.
“It’s not normal to have a bunch of leaders on one team,” Baker said. “But with this team I feel like I have – like almost every single one of ‘em is a leader in their own way. Maybe not on the court, maybe not off the court, but all of them are a leader in their own way. It all comes together and makes a really good team, just the whole entire dynamic of it. We’re all pushing each other to be better. During practice they’re just fighting to be better than the person beside of ‘em, and that’s what has made them a whole lot better – just themselves, fighting against one another.”
Leadership has been contagious. Freshman Allie Davis played like a veteran in the district championship.
“She’d never played a varsity point her entire freshman year and I threw her in the third game when we were losing,” Baker said. “She played great. She did a great job of handling that pressure.”
Boone was scheduled to host Morristown West Tuesday evening in a regional opener. The winner would secure a sectional berth and a spot in Tuesday night’s championship game.
Baker said the long-awaited district title will be properly recognized at the appropriate time.
“It’s a big deal to us, but the road’s not over yet,” Baker said. “We’re gonna finish what we’re doing and then we’ll come back and celebrate.”