By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Evangelical Christian School Lady Eagles led by new Head Coach and TRA graduate Bethany Berger were coming to town. Berger and her Lady Eagles were greeted by a loud and energetic TRA Gymnasium crowd.
Berger used to feed off that energy as a Lady Rebel player. That familiar home court advantage gave TRA the boost needed to defeat the Lady Eagles in three sets 25-18, 25-12 and 25-17.
“Before the game we made sure we were mentally prepared and focused,” TRA senior Mary Leslie Cranford said. “We knew it was a big game for us, a big rivalry. It all kind of started last year and within the last few years it has been such a rivalry.
“I think the biggest difference tonight was our energy,” she continued. “We were in a slump and going through something just a few weeks ago. The tournament this weekend we really got ourselves together finishing second. We found the way we play together and succeed is through our energy and feeding off each other. And not letting our mistakes multiple.”
TRA carried the momentum from the River City Classic held Sept. 6-7 into the showdown against ECS. The Lady Eagles were victorious in a five-set thriller last season at ECS.
“We started off working as a team more, not just trying to play for ourselves,” Lady Rebel junior Sarah Allyn Thornell noted. “But it was about working for each other. We had more energy. We’ve grown as team. Last year we were not as much as a team as we are right now. That’s a big part of it.”
TRA surged ahead 9-3 in the first set. Jordan Allen got the Lady Rebels off to the hot start with her serving including an ace.
The Lady Rebels were ahead 14-5 later in the set. ECS tried to stop the TRA momentum when Anise Sharp slapped down a spike. Sharp served up an ace later to make the score 15-9.
ECS trimmed the deficit to 20-15 later in the opening set. Then Cranford went into “Cran-Bury Mode” scoring in a variety of way. The senior score on a hit, spike and ace to make the score 23-15. Cranford’s ace ended the first set with TRA winning 25-18.
In the second set, the junior known as “The Test” and to her teammates as “Essay” had all the right answers. Thornell was at the center of the action helping TRA build a 20-12 advantage.
Thornell located teammates like Cranford, Mary Catherine Turner, Eva McIntosh, Addie Glass and Allen for points.
“I think with me setting all the time it is helping our hitters get better hits,” she noted. “It’s like helping our momentum and our energy. It’s faster offense.”
Whenever ECS tried to manage some momentum in the second set, Thornell would set up Cranford for a score.
“Most of it I’ve been working well with Essay lately on tempo balls,” Cranford said. “I’ve been working on my line shots and moving around the court. We’ve been connecting really well. We’ve been working a lot in practice on moving around the ball.”
ECS was kept off guard so much in the second set and TRA pulled away to win 25-12.
TRA players reflected by to last season when the Lady Eagles kept coming back eventually winning in five sets. Knowing what ECS is capable of, the Lady Rebels came out in the third set with even more intensity.
Allen served up an ace that made the score 8-2. Later in the third set, Cranford slammed another back row spike that made the score 15-7.
The Lady Rebels were moments away from victory when Thornell scored on a block at the net that made the scoreboard read 24-17. TRA closed out the set and earned the win.
“We were pumped for this one,” TRA Head Coach Amy Weatherington said. “We have just figured out what we need to do to work well and energy is a big part of our key to winning. They just came out with tons of energy. It was a big district game and they were pumped for it.”