By Mark Nagi

The Knoxville Catholic Lady Irish and Briarcrest Christian Saints girls’ volleyball teams know each other very well. October meetings in Murfreesboro have become a regular occurrence.

Unfortunately for the Lady Irish, the Saints have had the upper hand in the state tournament. They beat the KCHS for the 2019 championship, in the 2020 state tournament and even the day before in Murfreesboro.

But Knoxville Catholic got payback in the biggest match of the year.

On Thursday, October 21, the Lady Irish beat Briarcrest Christian 25-23, 25-23 and 25-21 to capture their second state title in program history, and their first in Division II-AA. Their 2016 championship came in Division I-AA.

“I don’t think about things like getting over the hump,” said Knoxville Catholic head coach Brent Carter. “I think about that we want to play the best when it counts. A couple of times we have come up short, and today we didn’t, and I love this. As a competitor, this is exactly the way that I would want it.”

Catholic started the tournament with a 3-0 win over Father Ryan. They played Briarcrest in the winners bracket the next day, falling in five sets. It took a 3-1 win in a Father Ryan rematch to get the Lady Irish into the finals.

That loss to the Lions seems to have given the Lady Irish some ideas on how to attack the three-time defending state champions.

“We played around with some stuff game plan-wise,” said Carter. “We made some changes to our defensive strategy and a couple of things offensively that really paid off today. We knew that every set was gonna come down to two or three points one way or the other. We executed very well.”

The Lady Irish got a monster performance in this tournament out of junior setter Devyn Dunn. She had 34 assists in the championship match against the Lions and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“This is typical for her,” said Carter. “She is a leader. She is a competitor. She is one of my favorite kids I’ve ever coached. She’s everything a coach wants in a kid and I can’t imagine the floor without her.”

As the close scores of each set indicate, this was yet another ultra-competitive match between these rivals. Knoxville Catholic and Briarcrest Christian exchanged blows throughout the day but the Lady Irish never panicked and withstood each Lions run. A big reason they stayed ahead was the performance of senior outside hitter Marina Azevedo. She had 10 kills, and they seemed to always come at the time when KCHS needed them most.

“She had some major side outs when we had bled a few points in a row,” said Carter. “Really a difference maker. She’s a big kid that took big swings, at the right space at the right time. And she listened to instructions and executed them very well from the sideline.”

The Lady Irish were led by sophomore outside hitter Bellamy Parker, who had a match-high 13 kills.

Catholic finishes the season with a 34-10 record and will bring the trophy they most coveted back to Knoxville.