HARRIMAN, Tenn. – It came down to the last game of the regular season for the Roane State Raiders volleyball team to become the 2021 TCCAA regular season champion.
In only the program’s second season, the Raiders achieved the unexpected with a come-from-behind, five-set win over five-time defending champion Walters St. (19-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-16 and 16-14). By winning the regular season crown, the Raiders earned the top seed in the upcoming NJCAA Region VII tournament, Oct. 29 and 30, which will be played at Walters St. in Morristown, Tenn.
Led by freshman Mattie Arnett’s 32 kills on 61 attempts, Roane State came back from a 2-1 deficit in what was certainly the program’s most hard fought and exciting match.
After the contest, head coach Steve Dallman said, “Those kids… those kids deserved it. They worked their butts off and they gave us everything they had.”
Walters St. scored first and won a hotly contested first set, 25-19. The frame was a see-saw affair that included ten ties and five lead changes. Leading 21-20, the Senators rattled off four unanswered points down the stretch to take the win.
In the second set, Roane State jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Walters battled back to a 13-7 lead. The Raiders then went on a 9-2 run to reclaim the advantage, 17-15.
The Senators made it interesting by twice more regaining the lead before the Raiders scored three in a row and led 22-20 before ultimately finishing off the visitors, 25-22.
The third set was another back-and-forth affair. With the set tied 21-21, the Senators scored four unanswered to win the frame and take a 2-1 lead in the best of five match.
With their backs against the wall in the fourth, Roane State dug down deep and found a way to win.
When the score was tied at seven, the Raiders went on an 8-3 run and took a 15-10 lead.
However, Walters St. was not going to go without a fight.
The Senators pulled to within three, 17-14, before the Raiders – behind the service of freshman Madison Boyd – scored four unanswered to extend the lead to 23-14.
The Senators cut the deficit to seven, 23-16, before the Raiders secured the game by breaking the Walters serve and then winning on a blazing Arnett kill.
With the conference championship on the line, the winner-take-all fifth set featured no less than nine ties. With the score knotted at 14, the Raiders broke the Senators service to take a 15-14 lead.
With Boyd once again serving at match point, the Raiders won on – fittingly – another kill for Arnett and became the TCCAA regular season champions.
Since Walters St. began their volleyball program in 2016, they had not lost a conference match until the Raiders beat them on their home court on Sept. 7. Later, the Senators would exact some revenge by shutting out the Raiders in Harriman on Sept. 23.
Both teams were riding six-game winning streaks as they battled in their third meeting of the season tonight.
Dallman commented, “It truly was a team effort. They definitely shut their middles down. Maddie Taylor definitely made a big difference but everybody played as good as they possibly can play and I’m just so proud of all them.”
In addition to Arnett’s 32 kills, last year’s freshman of the year Sydney Smith added 15.
Raiders’ freshman Katharine Roberts tallied a school record 61 assists on the night while four Raiders had double-figure digs, including sophomores Taryn Lane and Sydney Smith who had 23 and 22, respectively.
On the night that featured the team’s biggest victory to date, it also highlighted six players who participated in their final home games as Roane State Raiders. Sophomores Abbie Stinnett, Emily Evans, Sally Spangler, Maddy Taylor, Sydney Smith and Taryn Lane were all honored in a pre-game ceremony.
The Raiders volleyball program began in 2020, but due to COVID precautions, the season was postponed until early 2021. In their truncated, inaugural season, the Raiders finished 5-8 overall and ended conference play in second place.
With the win tonight, the Raiders improved to 16-4 on the season (7-2 in conference) as well as earning the top seed in the NJCAA Region VII tournament. They will face fourth seeded Cleveland St. on Oct. 29 at 5:00 p.m. at Walters St. in Morristown, Tenn.
Dallman said, “We just have to stay focused because… we just cannot expect to walk through anybody. We have to be ready every single match from here on.”