BIG STONE GAP, Va. – The Union Bears have one of the most decorated volleyball players in Virginia High School League history killing it and a freshman phenom dishing it.
Senior Emili Brooks hammered down 19 kills and ninth-grader Brooke Bailey dished out 35 assists as Union overpowered Marion for a 25-20, 25-10, 25-17 win in the first round of the VHSL Region 2D tournament.
Bailey didn’t begin playing the sport until the seventh grade and was originally a hitter. She switched to the setter position at the urging of Union coach Kim Mathes Moore and slid into the starting lineup this year.
“I took it as an honor and have gone from there,” Bailey said. “I’ve been working in practice every day. I was very scared at the beginning of the year, but have been more comfortable as the season’s gone on.”
Zoe Brooks was the setter for Union last season as the Bears won the regional championship and she is now starting at NCAA Division III Hollins University.
“Brooke had some big shoes to fill with Zoe leaving,” Moore said. “She’s got some good hitters to set to. I saw her hands and knew she was going to be a setter. She’s athletic, she’s got the speed and she’s learning the game. She’s still got some rough edges to smooth out, but Brooke has played a key role for us this year.”
It also helps having Brooks and Jayda Smith (16 kills) slamming down the spikes.
“I just know they are always there to back me up,” Bailey said.
Brooks is the VHSL’s career leader in kills with more than 1,700. Her stat line on Wednesday also included 13 digs and six aces.
“They’ve got some tough hitters and they’ve got really strong leadership and some experienced players,” said Marion coach Amanda Hanshew. “We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing lately and the way we’ve been capable of.”
Audrey Moss (10 kills), Chloe Campbell (eight assists, four digs), Calie Blackburn (seven service points) and Kaylee Poston (four digs) were the leaders for the Scarlet Hurricanes (10-20), who led 8-3 in the third game. Hannah Henson was the only senior on Marion’s roster.
“It’s always great for [the younger players] to get that experience, especially in postseason play,” Hanshew said. “To see what we need to do and what kind of team we need to be. We’re going to miss our senior. She’s been a big part of our program and put a lot of hours and we wish her the best. Now, it’s time to start looking at next year and building with a good group of upcoming seniors and upcoming juniors.”
Union (22-8) tangles with Mountain 7 District rival John Battle in Saturday’s regional semifinals at Virginia High’s Bearcat Den with a berth in the state tournament title on the line. The Bears certainly took care of business in their first regional tourney test.
“At this point you don’t take anything lightly,” Moore said. “Marion’s a good program and are well-coached and we knew we had to show up to play tonight. … You can’t relax. Momentum shifts so easily in volleyball, but that’s the beauty of the game.”
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