Ravenwood is in unfamiliar territory.
The Lady Raptors enter this week’s District 11-AAA volleyball tournament at Brentwood as the top seed for the first time in 10 years.
It’s a big accomplishment for Ravenwood (21-11), especially considering the strength of the district.
“Yeah, 100%, especially when you’re talking about doing it against two state championship teams,” Ravenwood coach Abbey West said. “So it was really cool.”
Second-seeded Nolensville (33-3), which moved up to Class AAA this season, is the two-time defending AA champion.
No. 3 Brentwood (26-6) is the eight-time defending AAA champ.
Ravenwood, Nolensville and Brentwood each finished with 6-2 district records, but the Lady Raptors won the first-place tiebreaker over the Lady Knights and Lady Bruins.
Ravenwood had one less loss in overall sets and a 184-170 advantage in points over Nolensville.
The Lady Raptors won the tiebreaker with Brentwood with a three-set victory. The Lady Bruins’ district win over Ravenwood came in four sets.
“It’s the toughest in the state,” West said of the district. “You’re talking three really good teams all in the same district and only two of us (can make it out of the district tournament).”
Ravenwood ended Brentwood’s 94-match regular-season district win streak two weeks ago.
The Lady Raptors’ 25-22, 25-20, 25-16 win was the Lady Bruins’ first district loss since 2013.
“Oh, it was huge,” West said. “It’s been a drought, yeah. The girls were super excited. It was a fun night.”
Ravenwood boasts a veteran team with nine seniors and 14 players.
“That could be a double-edged sword, just trying to get all those personalities all on the same page, especially when you’re talking about teenage girls,” West said. “You’re not going to change the technical skills of players in a few months, but you can really improve the dynamics and mentality of your team and in that aspect we’ve improved exponentially. It’s been incredible.”
Ravenwood will play the Franklin-Centennial winner in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“We are known for probably our passing, our ball control,” West said. “We serve tough and we pass really well and that’s the foundation of the game. That’s what we stress.”
Ravenwood’s Reaghan Larkin, a 6-foot-2 junior, has played well, moving from middle hitter last season to outside hitter this year.
Larkin is tied with 6-foot senior outside hitter Tanya Sichling for the team lead in kills with 209.
“We had a little bit of a rough start, but once we found our groove we kind of wanted to just leave no doubt that we’re one of the top contenders in the district as well,” Sichling said. “I think that we’re really building something and we haven’t had this chemistry on the team in a pretty long time, so I think this could be our year.”
Libero Bella LePore, a Northern Colorado commit, leads the Lady Raptors with 478 digs.
Senior setter Kennedy Riggs, who runs the team’s offense, leads Ravenwood with 649 assists and is second in digs with 223.
“She’s actually a libero, so she’s playing out of position and for her to do the job that’s she’s doing is absolutely phenomenal,” West said. “Setting isn’t just the physical act of setting. There’s so much more to it and it’s not easy to just step into that role without having years of experience.”
Riggs has played libero since she was 12, but when she moved to Brentwood from Chicago last year Ravenwood only had young setters.
“I told Coach Abbey I wanted to do whatever was best for the team and honestly the switch has (gone) pretty well,” Riggs said. “I think it really comes naturally to me because of all the club training I’ve had. We just work on every position.”
Riggs enjoys evaluating the opponent’s approach and running the offense based on that.
“When it works, it makes it really fun to do,” Riggs said.
Reghan Grimes (170 attacks) and Avery LePore (160 attacks, 199 digs) have also made big contributions. LePore also plays defensive specialist.
Grimes (foot) and Larkin (knee) missed most of last season with injuries. Grimes is also a talented basketball player.
Ravenwood won three consecutive Class AAA championships from 2010-12, sandwiched around state runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2013 during the Madelyn and Kat Hutson/Tracey Berry Days.
“You don’t control the kids who come into your program and Ravenwood doesn’t get the big kids like that,” West said. “The last time we had big all-stars were the Hutson kids. Brentwood has had the Eggleston kids for years and the next family coming up the ranks are the Knox kids going to Nolensville.”
West said that’s forced the Lady Raptors to rely on more of a team game the last eight years.
She is from Southern California, but met her husband while playing volleyball at Bethel.
The Lady Raptors have come a long way since last season when the COVID-19 pandemic ended their season prematurely in the district tournament.
“I think I blocked it out a little bit,” West said of her 2020 postseason memories. “We were quarantined two hours before our semifinal match, so that’s how it actually ended.”
The players were on their way to the locker room to get ready for the match when West told them their season was over.
“I think the whole team was devastated because we knew how much potential that we had going into the tournament, but there wasn’t anything we could do about it,” Riggs said. “So hopefully this year we’ll make up for it.”
Brentwood will face Nolensville in Wednesday’s semifinals, which will end one defending state champ’s season after just one postseason game.
“There’s more pressure,” said Brentwood coach Cathy Cram, whose team beat Ravenwood and Nolensville twice, including tournament wins.
Nolensville won the second-place tiebreaker with a three-set sweep of Brentwood.
Ashley Miller, one of Brentwood’s top players, was out with an illness during the loss to Ravenwood.
“(Ravenwood) always has a good team,” Cram said. “I would say we became overconfident because we beat them in the Border Battle Tournament (in mid-September). It’s a hard lesson learned.”
Cram is in her first season replacing the state’s winningest coach, Barbara Campbell, who retired after 33 seasons with 1,765 wins, 16 state titles and seven state runner-up finishes.
“She was actually there the first two matches that we played against Ravenwood and Nolensville and then she missed those games when we lost to them,” Cram said. “Now, I know she’s planning to come this Wednesday. I think that hopefully will inspire the players, knowing that Coach Campbell is in the crowd.”
Cram wants to give back to the program because her daughter, Andrea, earned a scholarship to Furman after playing for Brentwood.
“Really for me it’s just to continue what (Campbell) has done for this program,” Cram said. “I’m just trying my best to make it happen.”
She told her players, “Now is your chance to do a comeback story that would be amazing.”
District 11-AAA Tournament at Brentwood
Franklin (4) vs. Centennial (5), 5:30 pm.
Nolensville (2) vs. Brentwood (3), 5:30 pm.
Ravenwood (1) vs. Franklin-Centennial winner, 7 pm.
Championship, 6 p.m.