FRANKLIN – For the second season in a row, the Battle Ground Academy volleyball team has reached the Division II-A Final Four.
And this time, it’s a business trip to Murfreesboro.
“Last year, this was all new to us,” BGA senior Abby Robertson said. “I think we have more fire now and we know what we are doing so we’re much more confident.”
The Lady Wildcats defeated Evangelical Christian School Saturday in Franklin in straight sets – 25-13, 25-22, 25-23 – to advance. The BGA girls join Notre Dame, Concord Christian and Northpoint Christian on the state stage at Middle Tennessee Christian School on Tuesday.
BGA reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2012 last season, but suffered two straight losses for an early exit. The Lady Wildcats have never advanced further than the semifinals.
“It’s been a collective goal of ours to elevate this program each season and this year, we definitely want to finish better,” BGA coach Tatiana Alvarez said. “We have stayed hungry for that big goal of going all the way.
“I don't think it's going to be as much of a rookie experience coming in and being like, ‘Ooh, ah, this is crazy.’ It's going to be more like, ‘OK, here we are here again and now we're going to put in the work.’”
That experience was on display Saturday.
Late in the third set against ECS, the Lady Wildcats found themselves in a 21-18 hole, but regrouped for three quick points, capped by one of Robertson’s team-high 11 kills. The Lady Eagles inched back in front on a tip kill from Evann Swolensky, but a Robertson kill and ECS error gave the lead to BGA at 24-23. Bella Rye closed the match for the home team to secure the sweep.
Similarly, in the second game, ECS leaned on back-to-back kills from top hitter Zoe Smith to pull within 21-20.
Alvarez said her team did a solid job of limiting Smith with a collective defensive effort. Robertson and Kyra Hampton then stopped the late threat, capped by Hampton elevating and dumping a set over her shoulder for the set-clinching kill.
Kyra Hampton with the nifty flip to end the second set 25-22 in favor of BGA. The Lady Wildcats take a 2-0 lead over ECS with a Final Four berth up for grabs. Here’s Hampton’s tap kill —> pic.twitter.com/4kb5ad7Qiu— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) October 16, 2021
Hampton, a lengthy junior Virginia Tech commit, has emerged as one of the leaders for BGA from the setter position. She played off the bench last season and was primarily used as a blocker, but was recognized as a top setter during her club season with Alliance Volleyball locally.
Alvarez plugged her into the same role this season and BGA, which finished 18-2 last season, has produced a 31-2 record overall heading into the state semifinals. They swept Friendship Christian to win the DII-A Middle Region District 3 title and then topped last year’s state champion Goodpasture in four sets for the region title on Oct. 7.
“She’s really come into her own and found her flow as a setter, utilizing her height to her advantage,” Alvarez said. “She’s spent a lot of time in the gym and it’s paid off.”
Hampton, who was named the district MVP, is loaded with weapons, including region tournament MVP Bella Rye, standout middle Gillian Baisden, outside hitter Mackenzie Huntington and the do-all senior Robertson. She was also among the six Lady Wildcats with at least three kills Saturday and collected 22 assists, 10 digs and pair of aces as well.
“With setting, there’s kind of this leadership role you have, but I think we are all kind of natural leaders,” Hampton said. “I think our leadership is a big thing for the team and we all can lead.”
“I think we all have our differences, but we are all united under the same goal, too,” added Robertson, calling her teammates “sisters” and hinting toward the program's first state title.
Izzy Northam anchored the defense with 17 digs Saturday, while Robertson and Julianna Santiago each added 13. Dobbs tacked on a couple blocks, while Baisden closed with seven kills and Huntington had six.
“This is definitely the highest skill level that we’ve had in this program collectively, I think,” Alvarez said. “There’s a lot of really high IQ volleyball players across the board.”
The double-elimination state tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. at MTCS when Notre Dame (28-5) takes on Concord Christian (20-13). BGA will face Northpoint Christian (26-4), which is making just its second state tournament appearance, next at 11:30 a.m.
Winners will advance to play Wednesday with the championship scheduled for 11 a.m. at MTCS on Thursday.
“We’re just a couple games away from winning state and we have all worked so hard to get here,” Hampton said. “I think we are ready and better than ever.”