Now, the Lady Indians simply have to beat those same opponents when it matters most.
After falling short in the state semifinals each of the past two state tourneys, Kathi Shaffer and her Lady Indians (48-3) hope the third time is the charm. They’re back in the state tournament in Murfreesboro.
“I knew we were going to be better this year than we were last year,” Shaffer said Monday. “We’ve proved to be solid all year long. I wouldn’t see why we would stop doing it.”
Middle Tennessee State is back as the primary venue, with matches also being played at Blackman High School.
The format has changed. Instead of pool play with the top two finishers in each pool advancing to the semifinals, the eight teams in each classification will compete in a double-elimination bracket.
“It’s a different setup. Still, if you get beat twice, you’re going home,” Shaffer observed. “We’re going down there with all intent to win. We don’t intend to be in the loser’s bracket. The big benefit is having been there. We know what to expect, and the girls are really focused.”
The Tribe can expect some highly unfriendly surroundings at times. D-B was eliminated in each of the two prior tournaments by Brentwood, which had a massive, extremely vocal contingent of fans and students make the short trip from Nashville both times.
Shaffer thinks experience will counter any opponent’s advantage in fan turnout.
Brentwood didn’t make it out of the district tournament, but Ravenwood and Independence are in the Class AAA field to represent the Nashville area. Murfreesboro’s own Siegel also is in the tournament.
“Don’t count out my hostile set of parents,” Shaffer said with a laugh, “because they can get pretty rowdy. I think the mental toughness has always been our strength. Good players rise to the occasion. If you want to be great, great players play their best against the strongest opposition and I think I’ve got a lot of great players on this team.”
Outsider hitters Megan Devine and Caryn Foehringer are the lone seniors. Meredith Hardy and Doniqua Flack comprise an imposing tandem of middles for D-B. Stephanie Ash and Hillary Gray round out the contingent of outside hitters, with Jamie Rutledge serving as setter. Libero Lori Peterson and back-row specialists Katie Halvorsen and Katie Jones anchor the D-B defense.
The Tribe defeated every other team in the Class AAA draw at least once. D-B split with Ravenwood and went 2-1 against Independence.
The Lady Indians open their tourney slate Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. against Collierville (37-14) at MTSU. The winner advances to face either Ravenwood (48-2) or Karns (53-3) on Thursday morning. If D-B should lose to Collierville, it would force an elimination match against the Ravenwood-Karns loser Wednesday evening.
By Friday, the field will be whittled to three teams. The loser’s bracket final takes place that morning, with a winner-take-all state championship match at 2:30 that afternoon.
That’s the one issue Shaffer has with the new format.
“Whoever comes out of the loser’s bracket to play the winner, if they win, it’s over,” she said. “That being said, winning takes care of everything.”
And D-B hopes to take care of business this week.