Lady 'Cats overcome last-minute injury to win 9-AAA title

Andy Reed • The Lebanon Democrat

Wilson Central's Anna Kate Guethlein (8), coach Maci Lerno, Jae Morton (1), Lori Rocha (4 in foreground), Kennadi Yoder (7) and Campbell Strange (5) react the instant they realize they've won the District 9-AAA championship.

GLADEVILLE -- Wilson Central overcame the loss of senior hitter Nicole Brill at the end of practice Tuesday to dethrone two-time defending District 9-AAA champion Lebanon 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 26-24 on the Lady Wildcats' floor in the district final Wednesday.

Brill injured her foot on the final drill of Tuesday's practice and will be out 4-6 weeks, or well after volleyball season ends.

"We said 'last ball' and someone came underneath and stepped on her foot, and it sprained," Lady Wildcats coach Maci Lerno said after her second Wilson Central team moved to 20-11 for the season. "We had a lot of underclassmen who stepped up. We had Ella McIsaac coming in on the outside. We had Emilee McDonald hitting outside, and she normally doesn't. We had Kristen Smith on the outside, and she did her role and she put up an amazing block.

"We like to make sure our athletes are versatile. But it wasn't to the point where Emilee normally only swings one outside rotation. Now, she was the full outside. It was like they had done it before, but they haven't fully been in that role for six rotations."

McDonald led the Lady Wildcats with 17 assists, 16 digs, 12 kills and three aces while Ally Knueven notched 23 digs and six kills, Taryn Wilson 20 digs and two aces and Sydney Dalton 12 kills and four digs.

"Our word today was just 'passion' and our girls really implemented that and showing every role on the team is valuable, no matter what," Lerno said. "Whether you're in you're off or you're halfway in for three rotations or you're six on. You need to make sure you're being engaged and involved in the game and being that person to lean on for someone who isn't really comfortable being in the situation they're in."

Wilson Central will host the Region 5-AAA tournament Tuesday. The Lady Wildcats will battle Hendersonville while Lebanon will take on Station Camp with the winners advancing to the championship match to follow immediately afterward.

Match times had not been announced as of Friday. The two finalists will also advance to next Thursday's 7 p.m. sectional.

"We kind of lost our focus halfway through it and losing our focus kind of gave us slow feet," said Lebanon coach Adrienne Dotson, whose Lady Devils defeated Mt. Juliet in Monday's semifinals to return to the final and the region. "It's hard to beat a team three times in one year. Mt. Juliet is a great program. Wilson Central is a great program. Maci's done a great job with those ladies. They play smart."

Dotson, who was named district coach of the year earlier in the week, returned just three players from the rotation which won the district last season while adding five freshmen to the mix.

"We're definitely young," she said. "We have five freshmen on varsity, and all five play.

"I've put expectations on them and they definitely try to meet and exceed my expectations. I'm blessed that I've got a good group of girls that love to work."

McDonald was named tournament most valuable player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Wilson Central teammates Taryn Wilson and Sydney Dalton; Lebanon freshman Erin Gallatin and Kendall Arnold and Mt. Juliet's Zoe Hayes.

McDonald was named district MVP for the season, joined on the all-district team by fellow Lady Wildcats Brill, Dalton, Wilson and Anna Kate Guethlein; Lebanon's Arnold, Addie Grace Porter and Avery Harris and Mt. Juliet's Hayes and Cate Van Hoven.

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