The greatest night in the history of Heritage volleyball began to crescendo when Kailey Keeble turned it into pandemonium.
Seconds after the Lady Mountaineers secured a commanding lead in their Class AAA sectional match against visiting Morristown East, Keeble ran by the student section and lifted her arms several times to urge her classmates to carry the team to the end.
The decisive game followed, and once the Lady Mountaineers opened up a four-point lead at the midway mark, it was more of a coronation than a competition.
Backed by Keeble’s magical performance in her final home match, Heritage swept Morristown East, 25-20, 29-27, 25-15 to clinch the school’s first berth in the state tournament.
The Lady Mountaineers will find out today who they play in the first round when the tournament begins Tuesday in Murfreesboro.
Keeble had two kills over the final four points of the second game that ultimately ended with Kaci McBurnett’s kill and then added to the already raucous moment by celebrating with the fans she knew could make a difference when the Lady Mountaineers needed them the most.
“After winning the first two sets and it being a home game, I knew it was going to be easier for us because we have a nice student section and fan base behind us,” Keeble said. “With them hyping us up it makes us more relaxed and ready to play harder.”
Coach Jason Keeble — Kailey’s father — said it is impossible for the other players not to play hard when Kailey is on her game. That was never more apparent than it was on Thursday.
Setter Ashelyn Vandergriff had a triple-double with 10 kills, 15 digs and 21 assists. Middle blocker Anna Richardson had eight kills and three blocks. Libero Lexi Patty had 21 digs. Outside hitter Zephanie Snyder had five kills and 13 digs.
It all paled in comparison to Kailey Keeble’s performance. The Tennessee pledge had a triple-double after 60 points and piled on the stats after that on her way to 23 kills, 23 digs and 23 assists.
Jason Keeble said he wasn’t surprised because she has played in big matches for her club team.
“I told her at home, ‘Come ready to play. If you play well, that energizes the others. They feed off of it,’” Jason Keeble said. “These other kids have not played in many big games, even at the club level. To have her as the crutch you lean on...she’s the engine that drives us.”
The two kills Kailey Keeble had toward the end of the second game were crucial as the Lady Mountaineers eventually got the best of a back-and-forth moment.
They led, 23-21, but Morristown East responded with three straight points. A kill by Snyder pulled Heritage even at 24-24, and an error by Morristown East gave the Lady Mountaineers the lead.
Morristown East scored the next two to set up its second set point, but a serve error gave Heritage another chance. With the set tied, 27-27, Patty kept the point alive for Heritage with a monster dig that went to Vandergriff in a perfect spot. Vandergriff set it to Keeble, who scored on a tip.
McBurnett followed with the decisive kill to give the Lady Mountaineers all the momentum they needed to finish off a night many more people than just the players will remember forever.
“It means a lot to us but also to our school and to our community,” Patty said. “To be able to go to the state for the first time ever is a lot. We put in so much hard work over the years. To finally have this be our year means everything.”