Lady Redskins clinch district title

Loudon High School’s Sydney Smith goes up for a serve Monday in the Lady Redskins’ 3-2 win over Sequoyah High School for the District 5-2A regular season championship.

After a hard fought, five-set match, the Loudon High School Lady Redskins volleyball team rushed the court and celebrated Monday night following a 3-2 victory over the Sequoyah High School Lady Chiefs to claim the 2019 District 5-2A regular season championship.

After four back-and-forth sets, senior Sydney Smith capped off the final match point in the fifth set in the most fitting way possible — a hard kill.

“This is such a big deal,” Smith said. “I don’t even have the words to put it in. Winning district, that’s just the first step though. Now, we have to win regionals and then win the state.”

For LHS head volleyball coach Jody Bunch, this win was a long-awaited moment since her arrival two years ago.

“It feels great,” she said. “It’s the first time since I’ve been at Loudon that we’ve gotten the regular season or any kind of district championship, so it bodes well for us in the future. We had a tough one. Sequoyah played tough tonight.”

The Lady Chiefs came out firing and took the first set 25-14, but the Lady Redskins responded to take the second set 25-16.

“They had an excellent server,” Bunch said. “She had an excellent topspin on her ball, and we just couldn’t find a way around it. Our serve-receive really lacked tonight, as did our serving. They put it down a lot, more than they had the game before.”

The third set was evenly matched, but Sequoyah edged out a 25-20 win, followed by a dominant 25-10 performance by the Lady Redskins to even the match at 2-2.

Despite an energized opposing atmosphere, the Lady Redskins pulled away in the final set to win 15-9.

“We have to go back to basics,” Bunch said. “We have to do the little things correctly. I’ve preached on serve-receive and serves all year long — that’s been our strong suit. We didn’t show that in the first three sets, so you have to get a pass. That’s our motto. First pass and we go from there. The crowd was a big problem for us, at least in the first three sets. My freshman setter, it really got to her. She hadn’t really played in front of a crowd this size that’s not for her, so she had a little bit of anxiety, but it was good though. I loved feeling the atmosphere. We want a bigger volleyball crowd.”

After transferring from Michigan in the summer as an All-State hitter, Smith immediately stepped in and made an impact. Adapting to a new school and team took time, but she has found her niche.

“I’ve definitely progressed with my volleyball IQ,” Smith said. “Placing the ball, like not just hitting it every time as hard as I can. Instead of hitting it, maybe setting it into corners or putting right in the middle of the court. It’s really shown my leadership skills because I’ve tried to push everyone and not let the team sink, and I think that’s why we won the district. I love Loudon. Everyone’s super nice. The teachers are great, the coaches are amazing and I think everyone should experience the Loudon Lady Redskins.”

The Lady Redskins also completed a season sweep of rival Lenoir City High School on Thursday for the first time in program history.

“It feels good, and you could just feel it in the air,” Bunch said. “We thought we had it. It’s a little difficult sometimes to get the girls in that ‘I’ve got to finish, I’ve got to fight’ kind of mode. Lenoir City has some great players, and their middle has a great swing. We have a lot of goals for this season, and I said, ‘It starts now. You have to push, you have to fight.’ It finally registered to figure out the defense for their hits, and the back row finally paid attention and got where they needed to be.”

The Lady Redskins’ final match of the regular season will be 6 p.m. Thursday against McMinn County High School at Philadelphia Elementary School, followed by the District 5-2A semifinals at 6 p.m. Monday at McMinn Central High School.