The William Blount volleyball team won single-digit matches a year ago, and it underwent a coaching change two weeks before this season began.
Despite all of that, the Lady Governors find themselves not only at the top of their district, but also as the newly-crowned Blount County champions.
William Blount knocked off all three of its county rivals Monday in the Blount County Volleyball Tournament at Maryville High School to sit atop the throne. Heritage finished second after beating Maryville in three sets and sweeping Alcoa, which put forth a promising performance in its last-place finish.
“These girls have had potential this whole time, they just needed a little bit of work,” William Blount coach Kendra Swafford told The Daily Times. “Today, we had some kids come out sick and we still managed to push through, and that’s because we had some under-the-radar kids step up and do big things for us.”
While Monday was about bragging rights, it also provided further evidence of how rigorous the competition in District 3-AAA will be. All three matches between William Blount, Heritage and Maryville went to a third set, and all three were decided by four points or less.
The Lady Governors’ match with Farragut last week went the full five sets, as did the Lady Mountaineers’ meeting with Hardin Valley.
“You throw us, William Blount, Hardin Valley, Maryville and Farragut in a hat and pull out a name five different times, I’ll agree with all five outcomes,” Heritage coach Jason Keeble said. “To me, it’s going to be about who shows up come tournament time because when we play each other, we go the max.
“I’ve never seen the district have this much parity. Anybody can beat anybody.”
William Blount clinched the county title by rallying to win the final two games against Maryville after putting up little resistance in a 25-14 first-set loss.
No team led by more than four points in the second before the Lady Govs reeled off six off the final eight points to turn a 19-17 lead into a 25-19 win. Then, they scored the first four points of the third and never relinquished the lead en route to a 15-11 victory.
“I think we were just tired, and I was trying to have them give me some energy,” Swafford said. “Before the second set, I told them that we weren’t playing like a team that was No. 1 in the district and that got them thinking that they needed to work harder.”
The Lady Rebels didn’t do themselves any favors either, committing nearly 20 errors in the match. Maryville also put together a series of points late in the second set against Heritage to avoid a sweep before falling short in the third.
“One set, our serve-receive is on point and our defense isn’t, and then it is opposite the next set,” Maryville coach Angel Babelay said. “We have to find a way to get all of that to work together, especially our defense because when that’s off and our communication is down, we struggle.
“We have to bounce back from our own mistakes. We made a lot of errors in both of those matches, and against teams like that, you can’t do that.”
Meanwhile, Heritage feels like it is starting to shape into the team it wants to be for the postseason. It is settling its rotation, and senior Raven Woods has emerged as the leader it lost when Kailey Keeble and Ashlyn Vandergriff graduated.
“I think we’re starting to figure things out lineup wise,” Keeble said. “It’s all about buying into the different roles on the team and building up for the district run.”
Alcoa suffered three straight-set losses, but it managed to score 14 point in all but one game, giving it some confidence heading into an important District 3-AA matchup with Knoxville Central today.
“Tonight was all about having fun, trying to get some girls time in different spots here and there and trying to work some specifics out for some people,” Alcoa coach Sam Thomas said. “There are a lot of teams who couldn’t have done what we did tonight with as many different lineups, positions and rotations that we used.
“For the most part, my girls knew where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do, and that’s a testament to them understanding the game and having good leadership on the floor.”