HENDERSONVILLE The Beech High School volleyball program is rapidly building tradition.
After winning the program’s first regional title a year ago, the Lady Buccaneers repeated the feat on Tuesday evening, capturing a 27-29, 25-21, 30-28, 25-21 victory over visiting Portland in the Region 5-AAA Tournament championship match.
“It’s great,” Beech senior outside hitter Riley Sperlich said. “Coming from my freshman year when we weren’t good at all, it’s great seeing how we could build off of last year and try to duplicate it if not go further.”
The two programs have met eight times over the last two seasons, with the Lady Panthers winning the District 9-AAA Tournament last season before the Lady Bucs won the region. Portland won the 9-AAA regular-season title this year, but Beech has responded with a five-game victory in last Thursday’s 9-AAA Tournament final and then with Tuesday’s win.
“The seniors set a very good example last year,” Sperlich said. “We were so close. We wanted to do the same thing (this year).
“Saidee (McDaniel, the team’s only other senior) has been the best senior partner. She motivates me after her injury last year. She motivates me to want to go play for her.”
The previous seven meetings between the foes lasted five games.
“I was surprised,” Sperlich said of the shorter match on Tuesday. “I knew we could do it. We just had to find the heart to play for each other and play for ourselves.”
The Lady Panthers (31-8) squandered a 16-11 lead in the first game on Tuesday and a 23-19 advantage in game three.
“We served to win in the first game, and we served to win in the third game,” Portland head coach Rob Lesemann said. “We just couldn’t close them out. It could have been 3-0.
“They played unbelievable defense. They refused to let the ball hit the floor. They played awesome, and we didn’t. We got caught looking at times. They believed they were going to win. We had some doubt.”
Lady Buccaneer first-year head coach Grant Harford added, “I’ve worked with them all season to take each game – each match – one point at a time. No matter what the score is, no matter if you’re up, no matter if you’re down, don’t worry about the end outcome. It’s just one point at a time.”
After losing the lead in game one, Portland senior Abby Akins produced a kill to save a game point. Then, a kill by junior Alexia Dorris wiped off another game point for Beech before freshman Marlayna Bullington had a kill and Akins produced a service winner to close it out.
“We knew we weren’t playing to the best of our ability in the first game,” Sperlich said. “I think we realized how well we could do if we played to the best of our ability.”
The Lady Buccaneers (38-9) never trailed in game two, but the Lady Panthers led for most of game three.
However, blocks by Sperlich and sophomore Elizabeth Epley helped Beech to a 24-23 lead, but Akins responded again with a kill and then a block.
Beech sophomore setter Chloee McDaniel erased that game point with a toss into the open court, and classmate Kailey Clark blocked a Portland hit to wipe away another game point.
Chloee McDaniel had two kills late in that game, the latter of which preceded a Lady Panther hitting error that ended the third game.
“It’s nerve-wracking when we get in our binds when we are so close with them,” Sperlich said. “Those are the most exciting points. We know we are working hard toward that same goal that we want to win.
“It’s very mentally and physically exhausting at the same time. We have to come together and push through every single point to have the right outcome we want.”
Saidee McDaniel served up the first five points of the fourth game, and the Lady Bucs never trailed.
A block by Portland senior Sydney Minnis pulled her squad to within 22-19, but Beech closed out the match moments later.
“That was one of our best defensive efforts,” Harford said. “After playing Portland three times, I’ve learned their hitter tendencies, and I’ve moved my defense to where I’m pretty positive that their hitters will hit the ball. Beyond that, it was just the willingness to not lose any point.
“(Winning the region) says everything about the girls and how hard they’ve worked since day one of the preseason. They have just done an excellent job of just being resilient … of being aggressive … of staying up … just fighting, fighting for every single point.”
Sperlich was named the region’s most valuable player and was joined on the all-tournament team by two teammates – Chloee McDaniel and junior libero Vernoica Gutierrez – along with Akins, Portland junior setter Bailey Thornton, Springfield’s Holly Bilyeu and West Creek’s Mercedes Nicholson.
The Lady Panthers fell to 3-13 in regional championship matches, having won region title in 1996, 2003 and 2013.
“We thought we’d win tonight,” Lesemann said. “We’re not happy with the way we played, but Beech had a whole lot to do with that. Their effort was better than our’s.”
The loss forced Portland to travel for its Class AAA sectional on Thursday, facing defending state champion Brentwood (which rolled to a 25-14, 25-6, 25-18 win over Franklin in the Region 6-AAA final on Tuesday evening). Beech earned a home sectional against Franklin.
>> Both teams rolled to semifinal victories, with the Lady Panthers claiming a 25-16, 25-15, 26-24 win over District 10-AAA Tournament champion West Creek on Tuesday afternoon and the Lady Buccaneers producing a 25-8, 25-19, 25-15 win over Springfield earlier on Tuesday evening.
Both of those matches lasted less than an hour.
Reach Craig Harris at 615-575-7138 or on Twitter @HarrisGNESports.