MURFREESBORO – For the better part of a decade, the Ravenwood High School volleyball team has been “the other team” in a dominant district in Williamson County.
Even at the state tournament level, the Lady Raptors have had to claw their way into the spotlight. In 2017, they reached the state final through the back door only to fall against that other, other team – Brentwood, which is absent from the state field for the first time in nine years and winners of the previous eight titles.
It’s Ravenwood who is in the driver’s seat now and the girls have the state’s largest classification on notice after reaching the Class AAA state semifinals with a 25-15, 25-20, 32-30 sweep of Hardin Valley on Wednesday at Blackman High School.
They will play Cleveland Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Blackman with a state championship berth up for grabs.
“It just feels really, really good to show people that we're not like the underdogs and, yeah, we're a force to be reckoned with,” Ravenwood junior libero Bella LePore said.
The Ravenwood girls advance to the Class AAA state volleyball semifinals with a 32-30 win over Hardin Valley to pick up the sweep in the second round —> pic.twitter.com/ODqUud6qdB— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) October 20, 2021
Bella and her sister Avery, a senior, have anchored the Lady Raptors defense most of the season, but especially since defeating the Lady Bruins back on Sept. 21 in their first win over Brentwood since 2013. Both have reached double figures in digs in 10 of the last 13 matches with Avery more than doubling her season average during the stretch by scooping up nearly 12 balls per match. Bella leads the team with nearly 16 digs each outing.
They’ve also been a little more busy in the back row as senior middle blocker Ellie Kimpel has missed time since injuring her ankle in the regional.
“They are great for us,” Ravenwood coach Abbey West said. “They know exactly who they are as individuals and who they are as a pair and I just love them.”
Avery admitted that playing with her younger sister was tough at first this season, but the pair have aligned and the veteran Ravenwood team is grooving.
“We grew up playing together, so that has helped, but I think we have finally figured it all out,” said Avery, who collected her second consecutive double-double Wednesday with 10 kills and 14 digs.
“She’s been my role model,” Bella said. “She’s so good at everything she does and I just want to be like her. I’ve always strived to follow in her footsteps.”
Besides being a top defender for the team, the elder LePore has also stepped up her hitting with three consecutive matches with double-figures in kills. She had a dozen Tuesday in a four-set victory over Houston in the first round at state.
Junior Reaghan Larkin (12 kills) and seniors Tanya Sichling (11) and Reghan Grimes (7) also were key in the offense Wednesday as senior setter Kennedy Riggs distributed 37 assists.
Avery LePore and Larkin both came up with big hits down the stretch in the opening two sets as Ravenwood used a rowdy Raptor student section to help secure the sweep in the third game.
Hardin Valley rallied to lead late at 23-20 on a kill from leading hitter Keely Stilwill, but the next three points went to Ravenwood, including an ace from Riggs that ignited the student supporters. The game turned into a see-saw of momentum until Sichling punched through a kill for a 31-30 lead and Hardin Valley hitting error closed the match.
On three occasions, the Lady Hawks served up errors over the final points with the Ravenwood students providing plenty of distraction.
“Our student section was awesome and having them here really has made a difference,” West said. “It’s kind of given us a little bit of an edge, so we’re super appreciative.
“My heart was in my throat and since it’s tournament time, anything can happen.”
West said her team is believing in themselves and that’s translated into success on the court with their only setbacks coming against Nolensville in the district and regional finals since that big rivalry win over Brentwood last month.
“They're starting to rally around each other. They've got confidence in each other,” she said. “I think it's a true testament to what our program is all about. Belief is a very powerful thing.”
Reaghan Larkin hits off the block and Ravenwood takes a 2-0 lead over Hardin Valley after a 25-20 win in the second game —> pic.twitter.com/oT32Kc1w2z— Charles Pulliam (@cspulliam) October 20, 2021
The LePore sisters said Wednesday’s celebration will be abbreviated. They have higher goals.
“We’re ready to get to that state championship and show what Ravenwood is all about,” Bella said. “So it’s on to the next game.”
“It’s always been about one game at a time – all season,” Avery added.
That next one could push Ravenwood into the title match – the program’s seventh trip to the finals and first since 2017.