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.
Daniel Boone’s volleyball gets a killer instinct when its back’s against the wall.
The Trailblazers trailed Farragut 2-1 and the seniors careers flashed before their eyes on Thursday in a Class AAA sectional. Boone bounced back to win the final two sets for a 23-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-19, 15-13 victory which secured the program’s first state berth since it went to the Class AA tournament in 1998.
Seniors Laken Jones and Greyson Stevens helped fuel the latest rally for Boone, which rallied past Dobyns-Bennett for a district tournament title. Jones piled up 23 digs and Jones tallied 17 kills.
“Our seniors realized after we lost the third game, you know, you either sink or swim,” seventh-year coach Chelsea Baker said. “And we had a lot of leaders step up and came out with the wins in the fourth and fifth games. Laken stepped up big-time. She picked up a lot of balls that she struggled with at the beginning of the season. And that’s just part of that leadership. She realized like, ‘Hey, this is the end. We either get it or we don’t.’
“And Greyson Stevens stepped up big-time. There at the end she was getting kill after kill. She had 17 kills, and that was a high for her this entire season. She just came alive in that fourth game.”
Farragut jumped out to a 2-1 lead in an electric atmosphere that lost a few watts when a portion of the crowd left for a Thursday night football game on campus. Admirals fans were spared the courageous comeback from Boone.
“It was (gutsy),” Baker said. “It’s hard to travel and it was a big night for them. They had a rivalry football game that night. So it was definitely packed in the gym, especially the first two games … and it was a fun atmosphere.”
McKenna Dietz dished out 49 assists and had 28 digs. Jaycie Jenkins had 27 digs and 17 kills, and Mackenzie Sweigart (14 digs, seven kills).
The state berth didn’t come as a complete shock to Baker.
“Realistically, in the back of my mind I thought that definitely we had a good opportunity (in August),” she said. “I knew that we had a good solid team, and like I have told everyone that has asked me from July until now, my biggest thing was if we could be mentally tough we could be really good. We have a lot of great players. The biggest thing is just being mentally tough when the going gets hard. …
“Our conference is really tough. Normally, at least one team makes it to substate (sectional). So we have a tough conference, and it’s good for us.”
Baker was happy to credit players from her previous Boone teams. Whitney Sams, Makayla Ledford Mackenzie Carrier, Lindsay Laughren and Sara Humphrey, among others, helped set the stage for the program’s first-ever Class AAA state berth.
“I have to thank the players that were here before, too,” Baker said. “I’ve been here for seven years and each year we’ve gotten better. This has not happened overnight. I’ve had leaders to help build my program the last seven years. … If it wasn’t for their leadership and buying in to what we were saying, we definitely wouldn’t be where we are.”
Baker’s assistants are Kelly Aubrey, Kylie Shearer and Rylee Milhorn. Aubrey has been with her seven years.
Boone had the misfortune of drawing tournament favorite Brentwood (50-3) in the first round, which was scheduled for Tuesday.
“They have a girl that’s committed to the University of Alabama,” Baker said. “We expect them to be the best. … All of the teams here are going to be good. There’s no team here that’s not deserving of being here. The biggest thing is to not feel pressured. Just go in and have fun.”
The ‘Blazers got a good start on fun Monday night. They dined at The Alley on Main Monday night before going for ice cream.
“If you’re having fun you’re gonna have to play well,” Baker said. “Just don’t stress. … It’ll take a few points to get adjusted, but it’ll be fun.”