Shady Spring and Independence are no strangers to championship Saturday at the state volleyball tournament.
The Lady Tigers have won five championship titles and had three runner-up finishes, while the Lady Patriots have come agonizingly close to a championship with three runner-up trophies.
Friday, both teams head to the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, hoping for another championship opportunity when the state volleyball tournament gets underway at 8:30 a.m.
Although both programs know the lay of the land in Charleston, it has been a few years since either team played in the championship match. The last championship appearance for Shady Spring was 2005 and for Indy it was 2010.
Under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Kelly Williams, Shady Spring will be making its third consecutive trip to the state tournament with arguably its best chance to make the state championship tilt.
The previous two seasons, the Lady Tigers were strong contenders, only to be beset with unfortunate injuries. It was an issue that Williams and her team met head on this year.
“We are working hard to get in shape and better the things that we struggled with last year which caused us to fall short during states,” senior setter Bradlea Hayhurst said prior to the start of the regular season. “We just have to push ourselves harder. I feel like we have great chemistry with this group and we work well together.”
The numbers this year bear that out. Shady Spring heads to Charleston with a record of 44-5-2 and has yet to lose a match to a Class AA school. In 27 matches against AA competition, the Lady Tigers have dropped just one set all season.
Shady has wins over AAA state tournament qualifiers, George Washington, Spring Valley, Parkersburg, St. Albans and University, along with AA qualifiers Bridgeport and Independence.
“I am hoping our schedule helps us in the end,” Williams said. “We played some really great teams, a lot of AAA-teams. I am hoping playing those tough teams and that hard schedule has prepared us for the states.”
The Lady Tigers are very hard to predict on the floor. Hayhurst sets the table with over 700 assists, but sophomore Kelsie Dangerfield has been equally effective with 621 assists.
Shady’s attackers are numerous and average 13 kills per set.
Freshman Meg Williams leads the team with 384 kills, followed by fellow freshman Chloe Thompson with 280. To frustrate opposing teams even more, Shady adds more power in the middle with Olivia Barnett who averages three kills per set along with Riley Wiseman.
Fall asleep on the setters and Dangerfield and Hayhurst will blast one by you also.
Shady Spring has all the assets to make a championship run, but its overall strength lies in one key area — chemistry.
“We have our ups and downs like any other team, but these girls come to practice everyday, they hug each other and razz each other,” Williams said. “We do all kinds of fun things together. We like each other and we are ready to go to states and try to see what we can do.”
“We have worked harder than ever before in the four years I have been here,” Hayhurst said. “We really work together and stay together as a team. On and off the court we are best friends and we are together all the time.”
While Shady’s trip to Charleston may be considered expected, a return to the state tournament for Indy was far from it.
Coming off a semifinal run last year, graduation hit the Lady Patriots hard taking all six starters and some key reserves that saw plenty of minutes. Add in a new coach, Ashley Poland, and the hill seemed nearly impossible to climb.
Saturday afternoon, Indy proved no hill was too big to climb if you work hard and believe. Believe being the key word because Poland believed in her team when many doubted they could pull off such a feat.
“I think they can go to Charleston, I really do,” Poland said in an interview back in August. “They have come in with the right mindset and their goal is to make it back there. If they put in the work and they work together cohesively, then I think we can get there. Getting there and feeling it last year, it gives you a little push to want to get back there.”
Behind the dynamic play of junior outside hitter, Destiny Blankenship, the back row work from defensive specialist Kylie Nelson, teamed with the explosive play from sophomore Kyra Davis and first-year setter, Sarah Bragg, Indy came together to defy the doubters.
Now the Raleigh County rivals hope for one final match against each other. For that to happen, both teams will need two wins Friday.
No. 2-seed Shady Spring will open state tournament play at 1:30 p.m. against No. 7-seed Robert C. Byrd, while No. 8-seed Independence will again look to defy the odds when it matches up against No. 1-seed Oak Glen at approximately 10 a.m.
The semifinal start Friday night at 6:30 p.m.
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