In their first season of AAA volleyball competition, the Nolensville Lady Knights (38-3) made a statement against the Hillsboro Lady Burros (16-15) on Thursday night, sweeping the match 25-15, 25-12 and 25-19 to advance from the sectional round to the TSSAA state tournament.
“It is a great feeling,” Nolensville head coach Brett Young said. “To be able to do what we did the last couple of years and move into AAA, competing with the teams we play, we feel fortunate to get another chance to go to Murfreesboro.”
The win gives the Lady Knights one of the eight spots in the AAA state tournament field.
“Our first two years making the state tournament [were] definitely exciting," Nolensville junior Maggie Rickert said. “Coming in as the underdogs in AAA; I don’t think anyone expected us to make it this far. We are all really pumped about it.”
“I am really proud of our team,” Nolensville senior Avery Young added. “We knew it was going to be more of a challenge than it has been in AA, but I think we stepped up to the task.”
In the first set, the Lady Knights started out strong with timely kills, aces and blocks by junior Ellie Tant, senior Maymie Gutherie, Kaira Knox, junior Caroline Johnston, junior Peyton Neal, sophomore Maggie Allred, Avery Young, junior Madeline Mcneely and Maggie Rickert to take the frame 25-15.
Nolensville continued to surge in the second set staying in rhythm with kills, aces and blocks by Young, Knox, Rickert, senior Sydney Bloedorn, Johnston and Allred, widening the margin 25-12 and going ahead 2-0.
Hillsboro kept it close in the third set with kills by Summer Snead and Lee Taylor, but the Lady Knights closed it out with kills by Knox, Rickert and Young to finish the frame 25-19 and win the match, punching their ticket to state 3-0.
Hillsboro’s leaders in kills were Snead and Taylor with 7 kills each. Kill leaders for the Lady Knights were Rickert with 13 and Knox with 8.
“Hillsboro is an absolute beast at the net,” Brett Young said. “They have many good blockers. We knew coming in that we could not just bang away at them. Maggie and Kaira do a good job, no matter who we play, finding a way to get points for us. All year long Kaira has been such a difference maker for us. I thought both of them (Kaira and Maggie) had a good night tonight. It was nice to have them putting balls down.”
“It feels really good right now to prove everybody wrong and come out of the gate super strong,” Knox added. “People will actually know that we belong (in this class).”
“We have played them before, so we knew some of their tricks and their open spots,” Rickert said. “Our coaching and defense helped out a lot.”
Nolensville lost only two sets in postseason competition before sealing a trip to the state tournament.
“It is nice to get through this match in three tonight,” Brett Young said. “We will be playing such good teams come Tuesday that there will be a lot of four- and five-set matches in that tournament. The biggest thing is that you want to be playing your best volleyball at the end of the year. We want to get rest and be ready mentally and emotionally for Tuesday.”
The Lady Knights will experience the AAA state tournament for the first time after playing in the AA state tournament the past two seasons.
“The goal itself is the same,” Brett Young. “Just getting there is an accomplishment. Only eight teams get to do it. When you play in the league we play in, every night is such a grind. I felt like our team has handled that well this year. Our kids will be excited and ready to play next Tuesday.”
The team will start its state journey on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Blackman High School at 5 p.m. playing a 36-11 Cleveland.
“We are hoping to just maintain our energy and keep the student section into what we are doing," Knox said. "We want to play our hardest every set.”
“We just got to keep rolling and do the same things we talked about,” Avery Young added. “We want to keep building off what we have done so far in the postseason.”