As soon as Liv Gravatt’s kill landed harmlessly on the court, Maryville’s starters raised their arms in unison, congregating at midcourt for a group hug after securing a 25-14, 25-18, 25-15 victory in a Class AAA state sectional match over Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett on Thursday. Lady Rebel head coach Chris Hames shared an embrace with her assistant coach Andrea Shockley.

Gravatt’s kill clinched the Lady Rebels’ first appearance in the state tournament since 1984. The celebration was a product of six months of hard work that saw the Lady Rebels evolve from a young squad with potential to a team capable of winning the Class AAA state title.

“Ever since the summer we have worked so hard for this,” Junior Kylie Hopkins told The Daily Times. “Maryville is all about sports. They are really big in football and basketball, so it’s a pretty nice feeling this year to carry that (tradition) to volleyball and start something new that we haven’t done before.

“Now this year, everyone has heard about volleyball. It was really nice to have a big student section tonight.”

The Lady Rebels’ journey to the state tournament began in May when Maryville hired Hames, who won seven state titles at Webb School of Knoxville. The Lady Rebels received two more additions before the season, when Gravatt and freshman Amanda Mack moved to Maryville from California for an opportunity to play volleyball this fall. Junior Maggie Sanderson, Maryville’s team captain, was the first to welcome the two transfers and introduced them to the rest of the team.

Junior libero Delaney White, junior Grace Akard, freshman Kiernan Stamey and Hopkins also did everything they could to help Gravatt and Mack acclimate to their new school. Jordan Winegar became Gravatt’s best friend and biggest supporter.

“They would see me in the halls (during school) and they would hug me and say hi,” Gravatt said. “They were all so welcoming.”

That camaraderie off the court resulted in strong team chemistry during matches. The Lady Rebels are talented, and it’s also evident they enjoy playing together. They rarely grow rattled when opposing teams mount rallies.

Gravatt became one of the best setters in the area, giving Maryville’s hitters plenty of opportunities to earn kills. She dished out 38 assists against D-B.

Mack led Maryville with 15 kills. Sanderson contributed 11 kills and a block. Hopkins registered eight kills. Akard added six kills and a block, while Stamey finished with five.

“They bring us a lot of energy,” Hopkins said of Mack and Gravatt. “They have fit in really well with the team. They are not afraid of being the new girls. I am really proud of them.”

The Lady Rebels didn’t lack energy in the sectional match. Sydney Brooks served seven straight points to help the Lady Rebels gain control in the first set. Dobyns-Bennett competed in the second set, trailing just 19-17. Mack proceeded to deliver two straight kills and Brooks notched an ace to extinguish the threat. Sanderson sealed set two with a kill.

The Lady Rebels scored eight unanswered points to lead 8-1 in the final set. One play in particular captured Maryville’s dominance. With the Lady Rebels leading 22-14, White dove to keep the ball from grazing the court, sending the ball straight to Gravatt. The sophomore setter tossed an across-court pass to Sanderson, who walloped the ball past D-B’s backline.

Throughout the season, Lady Rebels have consistently made such plays look easy.

“I feel like everyone contributed tonight,” Hames said. “I really felt like from the first point we were in control. Liv did a good job spreading the offense. Our middles got kills. Maggie really picked it up after the first set. At this level, you can’t have one person just because you get predictable and then you have to dig and block. I think we did a good job of distributing the offense and making some plays.”

Besides the initial reaction after Gravatt’s match-sealing kill, the celebration was subdued. The Lady Rebels aren’t content with just an appearance in the state tournament; they have greater ambitions.

“If we play at state like we played tonight, I feel like we have a really good chance … we played so well tonight,” Gravatt said. “We just clicked. Everyone was happy. Everyone had a good attitude. … Everyone was cheering everyone up. It was great.”

Follow @JonathanToye1 on Twitter for more from sports reporter Jonathan Toye.

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