MURFREESBORO — Knoxville Catholic High School’s volleyball team missed its chance to repeat as Class AA state champions last week.
The Lady Irish swept through the preliminary rounds of the state tournament and reached the championship match for the fourth consecutive year.
Things got off to a rough start as Catholic dropped the first two sets against Portland.
And the Lady Irish never recovered. They came up on the short end of a 25-17, 25-18, 11-25, 25-23 decision against the Lady Panthers Thursday, Oct. 19, at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.
“They came out ready,” KCHS head coach Brent Carter said of Portland, which cruised to easy victories in each of the first two sets.
The Lady Irish [27-13] led just once in the second set when they took an 11-10 lead on a service point by senior setter Olivia Kozemko.
The Lady Panthers [47-6] stormed back as they scored 15 of the last 22 points to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
Catholic rebounded to claim the third set with a resounding 25-11 victory.
The Lady Irish stormed out and took a 20-4 lead thanks to a stellar service run by senior setter Meredith Bonee, who scored nine consecutive points and served up four aces in the surge that would all but clinch the game for Catholic.
The Lady Irish started fast in the fourth set and opened a 10-5 lead before Portland rallied to go ahead 13-11. From there, the match was a roller coaster ride.
The decisive game featured 11 ties and five lead changes. Portland would prevail after the Irish committed some late hitting errors.
Junior Olivia Cunningham, who was named Region 2-AA Tournament Most Valuable Player, was emotional following the loss.
“I’ll take a lot away from this but the biggest thing is that I loved how we played and I loved the way that we stepped up when we had to,” said Cunningham, who had 19 kills and 18 digs. “We had a special year and we’ll have to work hard to get back here next year.”
Sophomore Carlee Hart had four kills and seven blocks. She kept the Lady Irish within striking distance in the fourth game.
Bonee finished the match with 14 assists, 12 digs and seven kills. Kozemko finished her high school career with 22 assists and six digs.
In Class AAA, Hardin Valley Academy went 1-2 in Murfreesboro — beating Houston [three games] then losing to Brentwood [three games] and Ravenwood [five games] — to finish the season 38-9 after reaching the state tournament for the second consecutive year.