Alcoa coach Sam Thomas has been honest with his team since the season opener.
At that time, the Lady Tornadoes battled chemistry and rotation issues that made the thought of a District 3-AA championship far-fetched, but a fifth-set rally against Carter a month ago sparked a turnaround that made it achievable.
Alcoa turned that possibility into reality Tuesday by knocking off Knoxville Central 25-15, 19-25, 25-21, 25-19 to win the District 3-AA Tournament and give itself home-court advantage for next week’s Region 2-AA Tournament. The Lady Tornadoes beat Fulton 25-6, 25-15, 25-19 in the first round of the tournament to advance to the finals.
“Early in the season, I wouldn’t have been as confident that we could get to this point, but three weeks ago I felt like things were turning around and they could make this run,” Thomas told The Daily Times. “I’m really proud of them because we had different people step up tonight. Everybody did their job tonight and that’s what you need when you get to tournament time.
“To see the transformation from the beginning of the year when we were trying to figure out who would be on the floor and what the chemistry would be like and see all of that come to fruition and end in a district championship has been very nice.”
Throughout the ups and downs of the season, the Lady Tornadoes have shown tenacity, and it was never needed more than their pivotal third-set win versus the Lady Bobcats in the championship match.
Alcoa controlled the first half of the set, holding as much as a four-point advantage before Central rattled off seven straight points to take an 18-15 lead.
The Lady Tornadoes responded with a four-point rally to jump back ahead, and back-to-back kills by junior Chrystyn Sammy and McKinley Adkins gave them the breathing room they needed to close out the victory.
“To be honest, that was a big emotional turning point because Central had already gone a five-setter with Carter and physically you knew they were going to be drained,” Thomas said. “The emotional part of it can carry you through the physical even though you’re tired.
“If Central had taken that set, maybe the emotion carries them through and they’re much better, but for us to hang on and battle back, that was emotionally draining (for them).”
A five-set thriller with Carter in the semifinals caught up to Central in the fourth set against Alcoa. The Lady Bobcats made frequent substitutions to try and stay fresh, but it went for naught.
The Lady Tornadoes got the benefit of a three-set semifinal against Fulton and a lengthy rest period as Central and Carter duked it out for a spot in the district championship and a region tournament berth — the perks of winning the regular-season district title.
“We came out in the first set against Fulton, and while we made some errors and struggled a bit in the second and third set, being able to get done in three sets as opposed to going four or five was a big deal,” Thomas said. “Having that matchup was much better, and winning this tonight allows us to host next week, which is hopefully another advantage for us.”
Senior and Tournament MVP McKenzie Romer tallied a combined 40 digs in two matches while senior Cori Depew recorded 60 assists. Sophomore Caleigh Carruthers posted a double-double against Central with 16 kills and 17 digs.
Alcoa will have to wait until the District 4-AA tournament wraps up today to find out who it faces for a chance to extend its season to Class AA sectionals.
“We want to get that next win out of the way,” Thomas said. “We’ve had an opportunity to play a lot of those teams out of that other district, so now it’s just a matter of taking one game at a time. We didn’t look past anything tonight and we took care of Fulton, and now we’ve put ourselves in a position to carry on.
“We’ll go back to practice and try and fix some things that we struggled with tonight, but it’s always nice to look and say if you can win more your out of the regionals and into sectionals, and who knows from there.”