With a chance for the Covington Lady Charger volleyball team to get back to the state tournament for the first time 19 years on the line, the ball could not have been in better hands.
Junior Anna Gover, the district regular season and tournament most valuable player, stood at the service line Thursday night with her team leading Lexington 14-7 in set five. One point away from Murfreesboro.
“I just wanted to get it in because I trust my teammates,” Gover said.
She did more than that.
Gover came up with an ace which set off a wild celebration on the court and in the home stands as Covington beat Lexington 20-25, 27-25, 25-17, 19-25, 15-7 in a sectional match to advance to state for the first time since 2001, three years before most of this year’s players were even born.
Covington (13-4) opens up Class AA state tournament play Tuesday at noon at Blackman High School against Murfreesboro Central (28-11). With a win the Lady Chargers play the Anderson County-Greeneville winner Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. A loss means Covington will try and avoid elimination in a 2:30 p.m. match on Wednesday.
The Lady Chargers came up one win short of state the last two seasons, losing in the sectionals in straight sets to Crockett County last year and Jackson South Side in 2018.
“Sort of,” junior Kaleigh Beasley said when asked if she and her teammates experienced a here-we-go-again moment after losing the first set Thursday. “Every time we’ve gotten to sub-state (sectionals) we’ve been completely dominated. We really brought it this year though because we wanted it so bad.”
Covington won the next two sets before dropping the fourth. The fifth set was tied 7-7 before the Lady Chargers reeled off eight straight to punch their ticket for Murfreesboro.
Head coach Molly Griffin said the 19-year absence from state was discussed but was not the team’s focus.
“I mentioned it before the game in the locker room,” she said. “I told them, ‘You have a chance to do something that nobody in your lifetime has done.’ I kind of laid that out there to see what they could do with it and they capitalized.”
The morning after the Lexington win Covington’s players gathered in the gym to make plans. Most of them still said going to state did not seem real.
“It was, like, unbelievable,” Mya Smith, the team’s only senior, said. “It still doesn’t feel real yet.
“By the last set I was so nervous it didn’t seem real,” junior Lanie Stafford said. “My palms were sweaty. That feeing was so good, I can’t even explain it. It didn’t seem real until Coach Molly started texting everybody about our plans for the week and I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is real.'”
“It kind of felt like a movie,” said Easley. “It was really cool to run out there and celebrate with everybody.”
“I feel like I can’t really process it, like it hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Gover.
Junior Charleigh Cole said, “I was kind of crying and tearing up because it’s that sense of accomplishment after years of hard work.”
“It was a just a good feeling,” junior Ella James McCalla said.
Said junior Emma Bowie: “It was amazing, the best feeling ever.”
The feeling probably became more real when the team loaded into a school bus Monday morning and paraded around Covington before hitting the road for Murfreesboro.
Covington will have a chance to make more history Tuesday and Wednesday. The Lady Charges have been to state six times but are winless at 0-14.
“I am, for sure,” Griffin said when asked if she would tell her players about this stat. “None of them have ever been to state in anything. It’s a major accomplishment to get to this point. I just want to say you’ll be making history winning one game. We need to set attainable goals. You’ll make history winning one and then let’s go win some more and break history.”