It was one of the great moments and great scenes in Brindlee Mountain athletics history.
Down 3-10 and then 10-14 in the fifth and deciding set against Walter Wellborn in the first round of the 3A North Super Regional volleyball tournament last Wednesday, the underdog Lady Lions survived three match points while reeling off five straight winning points to take a 15-14 lead in a game they went on to win in stunning fashion moments later, 17-15.
Some players teared up on the court, the emotion so great they seemed almost stunned after realizing they had won. Then they saw their fans – including many fellow students – had come down to the partition behind them celebrating, and the players made their way to them, soaking up all the love and admiration.
Lions fans couldn’t believe it. Lions players had trouble explaining what just happened.
It was that kind of movie-like ending. That the Lady Lions were ousted from the tournament by Fyffe later in the day almost didn’t matter.
It was the fifth set against Walter Wellborn that Brindlee Mountain people will long remember.
“It was so stressful, a lot, like every point,” said senior Chantzley Kirkland.
“It was hectic, almost,” said fellow senior Kelsie Tyler.
“It’s the furthest I’ve been as a coach and the furthest we’ve been as a school,” said coach Elizabeth Martin.
That is true. Since the program’s inception in the mid-2000s, Brindlee Mountain volleyball teams have never won a regional match or an area tournament and scant few area matches.
Thus, against Area 9 winner Walter Wellborn, hopes might have been high for the Area 13 runner-up Lady Lions, but reality also was in the back of everyone’s minds.
Still, with a rowdy cheering section – including but not exclusively students – standing in support of the team from the outset, the Lady Lions had hopes. And those hopes were realized when they won the first set, 25-13. Tyler took over at the end, her kill shots accounting for two of the team’s final three points.
The emotions soon turned the other direction. Wellborn won the next set, 25-12.
In fact, the match was tight and tense but not the individual games. Brindlee Mountain, boosted by nine straight service points by Grace Durham, took the third set, 25-15, then Wellborn turned the tables and then some, winning the fourth set. 25-5.
The all important fifth set started out 2-2, but then the favorite took control, just like in the fourth set. A feeling of doom settled in on the Brindlee Mountain sideline as Wellborn got out to a 10-3 lead in the 15-point match.
Martin called timeout. When she was finished, she instructed her players on the bench to show more emotion.
“I want you to yell even if we don’t win the point,” she said.
The pep talk worked to a point. The Lady Lions competed harder and the intensity picked up for both teams, but the deficit slowly began to look insurmountable for the Lady Lions, who managed to close the gap to four at 13-9.
Then the score went to 14-10 in favor of Wellborn. That meant all the remaining points would be match points.
Kirkland and Tyler knew this was it. One more lost point, and their high school volleyball days were over.
“The last timeout, we talked about this being the last time we all would all be on the floor together,” Tyler said. “That’s what kept us all going.”
A Kirkland kill made it 11-14. A Tyler kill made it 13-14. Then, after the Lady Lions tied it at 14-14, Layla Bruno returned a winner to make it 15-14.
What was going on here?
Wellborn (25-17) tied it at 15, but at that point, it seemed like the outcome was inevitable. This was the Lady Lions’ match to win, and Tyler and Kirkland made it happen, accounting for the final two points with a lot of help from their teammates, who wanted to win for them.
“I think we had the heart to continue to push and think could win,” Kirkland said.
The Lady Lions finished this difficult year with a 13-15 record. But they won’t be remembered for a losing season.
“I just wanted the girls to win so they’d know,” Martin said, “that all the training and hard work they put in, it paid off.”
Fyffe won the second-round match, 26-24, 25-18, 25-14.