Ratliff, in her 18th season at South, has taken a dozen teams to the state tournament, including her 2019 version, which qualified Thursday with a 25-21, 25-22, 25-11 home-floor sweep of Gibbs in a Class AA sectional.
This will be South’s fifth straight trip to Murfreesboro, and it never gets old.
“It does not,” said Ratliff, whose Lady Rebels won state championships in 2015 and 2013.
Ratliff insisted this wasn’t really expected two or three months ago.
“Honestly, I think we’re just really grateful to get here,” she said. “Because we’ve literally got three upperclassmen, meaning juniors and seniors.
“It’s a special group of sweet girls who have been really patient with the younger players, like we have a freshman out there,” Ratliff added. “It’s just been really good to see these young ladies come together and grow.”
EAGLES COME TO PLAY
Gibbs (16-16) pushed South (26-14) from the start, but the Lady Rebels always made clutch plays, such as in the first set with the score tied at 21 and later when the Lady Eagles led 17-15 in the second set.
And usually it was senior outside hitter Abbey Jayne delivering.
“We’ve had great leadership this season,” Ratliff said. “These kids are smart. They know where we need to get the ball.”
A 5-foot-10 superstar, Jayne sparkled with 19 kills, 11 digs and three blocks.
“I’ve played with her since the third grade, grown up with her,” said Lady Rebels senior Makki Compton. “It’s awesome to know you’ve got somebody on your team who you can trust to always put the ball down like she can.”
PUTTING IT AWAY
Down 15-9 midway through the third set, Gibbs asked for a timeout. But it was too late for the Lady Eagles, who saw South pocket 10 of the game’s last 12 points.
Molly Williams played big defensively all night for South, turning in 21 digs.
“We went wild when that last point went down,” said Compton, who had 22 assists. “This is our senior year and getting to state is something Abbey and I’ve talked about all season. Well, since last season.
“We’ve been coached mentally tough by Coach Ratliff, who’s built this team. It’s our time to win and it feels amazing to actually get our shot next week.”