By Thomas Sellers Jr.
No Millington Lady Trojan Volleyball team has ever had the title of Region champions.
Now the 2017 edition have reached a new plateau celebrated with hundreds in Black and Gold tonight in the William Osteen Gymnasium. Led by Head Coach Whitney Horton, Millington claimed the 2017 Region 8-2A Volleyball Tournament title with a 25-23, 25-15 and 25-8 victory over the Ripley Lady Tigers.
“It feels really good to be the first team to get to Regionals and win,” Millington senior TZ House said. “That’s amazing.”
House and fellow seniors Addison Coulter, Olivia Ballard, and All-Tournament Lily Morton and Region Tournament MVP Paige Hall were sophomores on the first Millington team to reach the Regional finals in 2015.
Although that squad earned the school’s first District 15-2A title and berth in the Regional finals, the 2015 team was beaten by Covington in Regionals and had to travel for Sub-State.
The 2017 Lady Trojans will host Sub-State this Thursday night at 7 p.m.
“We didn’t see this coming at the beginning of the season,” Coulter acknowledged. “But we put in the hard work one step at a time.”
Coulter, a 6’4 Bethel University signee, said the key to outlasting Ripley was mental. To reach the Regional championship, Millington defeated the Raleigh-Egypt Lady Pharaohs in three sets earlier in the day.
Ripley swept the MLK Prep Lady Rams to reach the final match of the tournament. With the Lady Tigers and Lady Trojans playing two regular season games and in last week’s District 15-2A final, the Regional championship would be a test of mental strength.
“We had to be loud and get into their heads,” Coulter noted. “We every point we just go loud.”
Millington snatched victory from Ripley in the first set after trailing for a majority of the set. In the second set, the Lady Trojans used inspired play from All-Tournament player and freshman Ally Mareno.
The Lady Trojans and their fan base appeared to break the concentration of Ripley in the third set. It was a matter of moments before Millington would be making history and celebrating.
“I got a great group of kids and they make my job easy,” Horton said. “It’s easy when you come out here and have to fix the little things. They know even before I say anything what I’m about to tell them what to do. It’s a blessing and I’m proud of each and every one of them. We have one more before State.”
House and Coulter said Horton was the glue that held things together when the season started off inconsistent.
“Even though we fight – a lot, we still come together,” House said. “On this court, we are sisters. We have to be. We have to step up and show the younger ones how it will be here next year, what to do and how to do it.”
“She was important because she showed a lot of dedication,” Coulter said. “Coach Horton wanted it and had the heart for it. She didn’t know much about when she first came but she still wanted it for us. She learned a lot from us and we learned a lot from her.”
Horton said hearing her senior appreciation made the historic moment even more special.
“It means everything to me,” the first-year volleyball leader said. “These kids have put in a lot of work and a lot of time. They bust their tails for me every single day. And I can’t ask for a better group of seniors than what I’ve got. They make my job easy. When you get to coach a great group of kids like that, it’s no telling what is in the future for them.”
All agreed that the key moment in the past that led to the historic evening was the first Ripley win.
“We knew we could do it,” House said. “We saw what we could do. We had strategies. We had to put in all in play.”
Horton said the first Ripley victory illustrated to all involved in the program that a win over Ripley in October was possible.
“That’s when I say that they trusted me and they knew I wanted what was best for them, the program and this team,” Horton said. “I told them whatever happens this season, I’m proud of them and I love each and every single one of them.
“We take it one game at a time,” she concluded. “And that was the intentions in their heads. I’m very proud to coach these kids. And like I said, one more game until State.”
Sub-State will be in the William Osteen Gymnasium this Thursday night at 7 p.m.