By Thomas Sellers Jr.
COVINGTON — The upset-minded Ripley Lady Tigers were moments away from an unexpected victory over the No. 2 seeded Millington Lady Trojans.
The confidence that the Lady Trojans entered the Covington Gymnasium with Oct. 6 for the District 15-2A Semifinal contest transferred over to the purple and white of Ripley. The Lady Tiger fans were so sure of victory leading 23-17 in the third set, they started to head to the exits.
Why not feel the upset was already in the bag after winning the opening two sets 25-21 and 25-23. Millington Lady Trojan senior Ally Marona saw the mass exodus and began a personal crusade to make them return to the bleachers.
Marona led her Lady Trojans on a 7-1 run to deadlock the third set at 24-24. Marona scored in a variety of ways with pushes, well-placed tips and her trademark spikes. Accompanied by the serving of her teammate Emily Denson, Millington’s rally made the Ripley fans start to creep back toward the stands.
But the Lady Tigers survived the Lady Trojan comeback to take the third set 26-24 and pull off the upset to advance to the championship game against the Covington Lady Chargers. Both Covington and Ripley will advance to Regionals and likely Sub-State.
“Based on how they kept fighting, I can’t be upset,” Millington Head Coach Abby Wade said. “From freshmen to my seniors, they showed they have the fight in them. These freshmen are not going to quit and I am excited for the future. Honestly I am proud of these seniors and everybody for how the season has gone.
“This season ended too early,” Wade acknowledged, “but I am so proud of my team and I am so proud to be a Millington Trojan.”
Being a Millington Lady Trojan and fan of the black and gold was shaky in the early moments of the contest. The first set the Lady Trojans got timely plays from Savannah Spearman, Abbie Gallo, Shelby Pindell, Kaira Lopez and senior Avery Smith.
Despite those highlights Ripley kept holding the lead throughout the frame. Millington senior duo of Marona and Smith made the score 21-20 in favor of Ripley with an ace and push score respectively.
Then the Lady Tigers closed out the first set on a 4-1 run to win 25-21.
The second set played out similarly with Ripley ahead 14-11 at the midway point. The Lady Tigers and Lady Trojans matched each other point for point with Ripley winning 25-23.
The third set played out with the Lady Tigers surging ahead on a couple of occasions. With Ripley ahead 23-17, several started to head to the exits. Then Marona made a rally to save her high school career.
With powerful kills and side-eye pushes, Marona led Millington to a 24-24 deadlock and forced Ripley to call a timeout. But faith was on the side of the Lady Tigers and an early end came for the Lady Trojans and seniors Marona and Smith.
“How did my seniors leave this program? Are they allowed to leave?” Wade asked jokingly. “I want to keep my seniors. These two seniors that we have are the best combination of leadership you could ask for. You have one who will push them into the ground and the other one will pick them back up and keep them going. They’ve grown so much as leaders. I’m so excited on how they’re going to progress in life. They’re going to be successful.”
Wade admitted visions of Regional and Sub-State danced in the minds of the Lady Trojan Volleyball program. But her younger players got a tough life lesson instead.
“I hope they take the disappointment in the offseason as we head into the next season and take it saying ‘Alright this is not going to happen again,’” she concluded. “I hope they learn not to be in this situation next year and how to fight for every point.”