MURFREESBORO – Angie Noble and Cathy Cram have spent the last month steering the Brentwood High School volleyball team. They’ve learned from a legend and her advice was on replay in their minds constantly, but when Barbara Campbell suffered a health scare in late September, they had to learn the controls quickly to guide the seven-time, err, now eight-time Class AAA defending state champions.
“That first week, we were really kind of reeling,” Noble said. “We were just trying to hold down the fort.”
Brentwood stayed the course and the Lady Bruins maintained its seven-year unbeaten regular season District 12-AAA record, they cruised to the district and the Region 6-AAA championships and raced back into a ninth consecutive state championship match on Friday.
MURFREESBORO – One person was missing all state tournament during the TSSAA volleyball champ…
The Lady Bruins reached the final giving up just a single set in three wins over Collierville, Cookeville and last year’s runner-up Houston. Longtime rival Siegel awaited on the Lady Stars home floor after battling through consolation. The tournament host and home team won the last meeting in five sets in Murfreesboro back on Sept. 23 just days before coach Campbell was hospitalized because of a stroke.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night,” Cram admitted of the final.
The match was set, but the queen was still missing.
“I just knew she should be here,” Noble said of Campbell. “She started this whole thing and she needs to be here as it continues.”
Rumors that coach Campbell might make an appearance Friday seemed to subside as warmups ended. After the National Anthem was played and starters announced, it was back to business without their leader one more time for Brentwood.
However, Noble, who has served as an assistant the last eight seasons, had a surprise – an ace, or better yet, the queen, up her sleeve: Just before the opening serve of the championship, a side door to the Siegel gym opened and in walked coach Campbell, flanked by two of her daughters, her sister and husband – staples at Brentwood matches themselves.
She walked toward the end of the bench and took her seat where a queen's crown has been holding her spot for 10 matches. The gym buzzed as if everyone’s favorite celebrity walked by and for the Brentwood volleyball family, she just did. Barb was back.
“I tried to not cry because I didn’t want the kids to be that emotional when they still had to play, but I was just so happy she was here,” Cram said.
“This is the movie that I had in my head,” Noble said. “This is the way it played out.”
As everyone tried to come to terms with having the veteran coach, who is in her 33rd season, make her return on the championship stage, Brentwood began the unprecedented task of winning championship No. 8 in a row.
The Lady Bruins traded points initially and then elevated their game to a whole other level. In fact, they dominated playing mistake-free volleyball for not one, but three sets.
A 12-0 run made it 16-5 out of the gate and the first set ended 25-7. Brentwood struck first in the second set and never trailed as they continued to surge on the emotional boost. Each Siegel timeout only added to the barrage as the Lady Bruins stole quick hugs from coach Campbell.
Senior Haley Sanders had a couple moments of disbelief in between rotations just staring at coach Campbell on the end of the bench smiling from ear-to-ear. Senior Mary Oldham said she had to fight back tears of joy.
“Seeing her walk in, honestly, that just gave us even more energy and more fire than ever,” senior Shaye Eggleston said. "It was just the icing on the cake to have her here with us again."
The championship match took just 63 minutes. Brentwood made history, again, by capturing an eighth title in a row. It is banner No. 16 for coach Campbell and her Lady Bruins.
Campbell said she didn’t want to be a distraction at the state tournament. However, she completely was in every way and it propelled her girls to another championship ending.
"I know it just pumped them up more to see their other mom, their queen, to be here,” Cram said. “They wanted to win for her."
Campbell said she was overwhelmed and “elated.”
“They did it. We did it. I tell you, it’s a great feeling,” she said.
Noble said she was so proud of how the girls channeled the emotional energy from their coach's return.
“These girls focused that energy, managed it and used it to their advantage,” Noble said. “Oh my gosh, having her here. I just feel so great.”
Noble said her and Cram worked hard to lean on everything they have learned over the years. The message was the same, it just sounded a bit different, Noble said.
When Campbell was pulled out of her seat to accept the championship coach’s plaque after the match, she grabbed her assistants and the three coaches joined arms to accept the award.
“Those two, I am so incredibly grateful for them,” Campbell said. “I really love those two. They made sure these kids didn’t miss a thing.
“And the girls … I felt very honored by how this team played. It was magical.”
In a month that began recovering in the hospital, coach Campbell ended it back on the sidelines with another championship to boot and in the early Saturday morning hours, she also welcomed a second granddaughter, Nora.
"I’m just so fortunate and so blessed," Campbell said.