Central coach Tracy Graybeal gathered the Lady Cougars for some last-minute encouragement Tuesday night before facing South in the District 1-AAA tournament semifinals.
“We have nothing to lose,’’ she said. “Let’s bring it.’’
Central (29-12) did just that, upsetting the Big 8 Conference co- champions 25-22, 19-25, 26-24, 25-22.
It spilled the top-seeded Lady Rebels (34-11) into the loser’s bracket for today’s 5 p.m. match against Science Hill, a contest of survival.
Central advanced to face the other conference co-champ, Dobyns-Bennett (43-3), in the winner’s bracket finals at 6:15.
“Our girls played awesome,’’ Graybeal said. “We never lost our composure even when we fell behind. We had a marathon match with Tennessee High on Monday and I figured we’d either be flat or go back to our system.
“We had so many kids play well tonight. Everybody who played was a difference-maker. We don’t have a lot of size but we play with heart. This sport is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. Volleyball is all about momentum. ‘Mo’ is our friend. When he’s on our side, we’ll take him and run.’ ‘’
Kara Mann, Brianna Cox, Jacqueline Kestner, Savannah Benton, Lauren Blevins and Kenzie Darnell led the Central charge. Mann had 14 kills, Cox 12 kills, Kestner nine kills, Benton six kills, Blevins 40 assists and Darnell 31 digs.
“I think that was a turning point for us a couple of weeks ago when we beat Gate City,’’ Graybeal said.
It was two years ago that Central defeated South in the district tourney.
South’s superlatives were Makensey Campbell with 12 kills, Kim Johnson with six kills and five blocks, and Taylor Fink with 21 assists.
“Central came after us and played really well,’’ South coach Wendy Ratliff said. “You can’t take anybody for granted. It’s a double-elimination tournament and we’re beating each other up. We’re grateful to still be in it.’’
Host D-B breezed past the Lady Hilltoppers (28-7) in three games 25-15, 25-8, 25-16.
The Lady Indians displayed a well-rounded attack.
Jamie Rutledge was credited with 14 digs, three blocks, four kills and 26 assists. She had a strong supporting cast in Lori Peterson with 25 digs and an ace, Megan Devine with 25 digs, 11 kills and a block, Katie Halvorsen with nine digs, 26 service points and an ace, Caryn Foehringer with 10 digs and three kills, Meredith Hardy with four blocks, 11 kills and an ace, and Daniqua Flack with seven blocks and two kills.
“This was one of the most focused matches we’ve had all year,’’ D-B coach Kathi Shaffer said. “At tournament time, it’s win or go home, and you want to put yourself in the best position to win. It all could change tomorrow.’’
Shaffer reached a milestone last week against Hume-Fogg, getting her 800th career win.
The Lady Indians lost twice in an invitational tourney at Franklin, bowing to Independence and Ravenwood. They placed third in a field of 48 teams.
Kim Hyatt’s Lady Hilltoppers never got in sync against D-B.
“We’ve got to play our tempo,’’ Hyatt said. “When going against D-B, you have to be more aggressive. We didn’t have quite enough to finish but this gets us ready for the next couple of matches.’’
Statistical leaders for Science Hill were the Rice sisters, Ivey and Renzey. Ivey, a junior, had six kills and eight digs. Renzey, a freshman, got 14 assists and eight digs.
Science Hill is 0-2 against South this season. However, the Hilltoppers were leading 11-7 in a fifth game the last time they met.