MURFREESBORO – From one peak to another, Nolensville High School remained at the summit of Tennessee volleyball.
The climb certainly didn’t come easy, especially on the Class AAA state stage this week, but the Lady Knights survived a marathon trek through consolation play to capture a third consecutive state title and first in the school’s new classification.
“It feels like all our hard work has paid off, you know,” high-flying freshman and championship game MVP Kaira Knox said. “We proved that to ourselves and everyone.”
That championship view … Nolensville sweeps Ravenwood for the Class AAA state volleyball title - third championship in a row —> pic.twitter.com/OLNFfSd0sc— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) October 22, 2021
Nolensville raced to a 25-14, 25-19, 25-21 championship win over budding Williamson County rival Ravenwood Friday at Siegel High School, adding another trophy to the back-to-back Class AA ones from 2020 and 2019.
Knox sizzled from the right side, collecting 13 kills on just 19 attacks without an error. She used the same energy from a rowdy Ravenwood student section that helped the Lady Raptors cruise into the final nearly untouched as extra motivation.
“Ravenwood, they had a pretty tough crowd over there,” Knox said, raising an eyebrow and motioning toward the stands where dozens of Raptor students were. “So I just thought I’d kill the ball every time."
Junior Maggie Rickert added eight kills and a team-high 15 digs, while senior Avery Young came on strong late with four of her seven kills coming in the title-clincher for Nolensville. Fellow senior Maymie Guthrie added 14 digs.
Guthrie, who stepped in at libero this season to replace last year’s Class AA championship MVP Lauren Starke in the same position, said her team embraced the challenge of defending their titles and elevating as a program this year.
“I think we all knew coming into this year that we had some big shoes to fill and it was even a more difficult route because we moved up a division,” Guthrie said. “We have all worked so hard and today, we all said to ourselves, ‘Why not one more?’”
Championship Volleyball Photo Gallery – Nolensville vs. Ravenwood, Class AAA
The Nolensville High School volleyball team raced to a 25-14, 25-19, 25-21 sweep of Williamson County foe Ravenwood to capture a third consecutive state championship and first in Class AAA on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro.
The Lady Knights proved to be the team to beat this season despite the transition from AA to AAA – and joining the state’s toughest district in 11-AAA. They added to their resume by eliminating eight-time defending champion Brentwood to open the postseason and they already owned four wins over Ravenwood in five meetings, but a five-set loss to Cleveland in the state opener almost completely derailed the end goal of another title.
“It was a long four days,” Rickert said of the draining tournament run, which included wins over Hardin Valley, Maryville, Collierville, Cleveland and now Ravenwood. “But at the end of the day, we just really wanted this.”
The junior hitter and all-time leader in kills at the young school matched a career-high with 24 kills and set a career mark with 21 digs in a four-set win over Collierville in the second of three elimination wins over the exhausting Thursday march through the consolation bracket. She said overcoming just the fourth loss of the season to win five straight – and three matches in one day – is a “surreal feeling.”
“I don’t think anybody expected that,” she said.
The freshman ends another from the right side … Kaira Knox gives Nolensville a 25-19 win and 2-0 lead in the state championship over Ravenwood —> pic.twitter.com/Tgmm29zKVQ— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) October 22, 2021
Nolensville coach Brett Young said he felt like his team played from behind all day Thursday. They didn’t Friday and that paved the way to success.
“I just felt like we were down like 5-1 every set yesterday, but I thought today was the opposite, which made Ravenwood play catchup,” he said. “That’s tough on you. I really thought that was a big part of what we were able to do today.”
Ravenwood coach Abbey West simply said her team had the worst day to have an “off day," especially coming off a dazzling performance in a straight set win over Cleveland in the semifinals. Her girls were off-balance out of the gate in the final and never found the rhythm that carried them into and through the state tournament.
“There’s no explaining it,” she said. “It was just frustrating, but it is what it is. I think this team has done a phenomenal job regardless.”
Ravenwood’s Tanya Sichling said she was happy how her team earned the respect they received late in the season. The senior tallied 11 kills to lead the Lady Raptors Friday.
“We still accomplished a lot of big things,” she said. “We took down Brentwood. That was one of our big goals and we beat Nolensville once.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of positives and year, and yeah, we would’ve wanted a different outcome (today), but I’m still forever proud of this team.”
Sichling teamed up with fellow senior Reghan Grimes (6 kills and 2 blocks) to help lead a surge in the second set after Nolensville opened up a 15-10 lead. She followed a Grimes slam from the middle with a kill down the left side to knot the set at 16-16, but just as Nolensville opened the contest with a 9-3 start, the Lady Knights closed with a 9-3 burst.
Nolensville setters Caroline Johnston and Ellie Tant provided the next few punches. After Johnston put down the go-ahead point with a block, Tant served up three consecutive aces.
“We served very tough and I think we found the spots we needed,” said Tant, who carries the nickname “3-ball.”
Every time the junior steps up to serve, Nolensville’s students raise three fingers and chant “3-ball.”
“Someone just started saying it and I guess it stuck,” said Tant, who served up four aces to go with 12 assists.
Knox closed out the game with two thundering kills and Nolensville carried the same momentum into the third game leading 8-3 when Rickert slammed a kill off the block. Ravenwood closed within 11-10 on a Grimes block, but never could overtake the Lady Knights down the stretch as Avery Young stepped into the spotlight one more time with consecutive kills late and the championship clincher from the right side.
The senior and coach’s daughter said her team was physically tired, but mentally sharp for one more match.
MURFREESBORO – One game at time is typical coach speak, but the Nolensville High School voll…
“We have all the respect for (Ravenwood) … but we knew we could get through them one more time,” she said. “And there’s no better way to end the season.
“It’s bittersweet because this is my last match with this team, but there’s no better feeling.”
Her dad and coach said Avery and others stepped up to lead his team all season and especially when they needed it most.
"I'm just so proud of these girls," he said.
Young added that the growing culture at Nolensville keeps turning over talent, which is an exciting notion for the coach.
“As a coach, your mind drifts ahead pretty quick,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling knowing we have a lot of good contributors and will return a lot of experience.”
Rickert took it to the next level.
“Oh yeah, hopefully a four-peat,” she said smiling.
MURFREESBORO – For the better part of a decade, the Ravenwood High School volleyball team ha…
Nolensville (43-4) def. Ravenwood (26-14), 3-0, Class AAA State Championship
25-14, 25-19, 25-21
Kills – NHS 32 (Kaira Knox 13, Maggie Rickert 8, Avery Young 7); RHS 32 (Tanya Sichling 11, Avery LePore 7, Reghan Grimes 6, Reaghan Larkin 6). Aces – NHS 10 (Ellie Tant 5, Rickert 2, Maymie Guthrie 2); RHS 8 (Reaghan Larkin 4, Emily Birrell 2). Assists – NHS 29 (Ellie Tant 12, Caroline Johnston 10); RHS 29 (Kennedy Riggs 26). Digs – NHS 40 (Maggie Rickert 15, Maymie Guthrie 14, Peyton Neal 7); RHS 58 (Bella LePore 16, Emily Birrell 14, Avery LePore 11, Tanya Sichling 9). Blocks – NHS 7 (Maggie Allred 4, Johnston 2); RHS 3 (Grimes 2).
Total attendance – 612. Total time – 1:06.
(Statistics courtesy of TSSAA)