There were hugs, laughs and plenty of high fives to go around for Nolensville volleyball during Thursday’s home sectional match.

That was partially by design.

“We always play a lot better when we’re having fun and everything is light-hearted,” junior outside hitter Maggie Rickert said.

But the Knights (38-3) also had every reason to smile as they cruised past Hillsboro 3-0 to earn a state tournament berth in their first season as a Class AAA program.

Nolensville, winners of back-to-back Class AA state titles, may be new to the biggest public-school classification in Tennessee, but it is no stranger to the postseason.

The Knights’ experience showed in a dominant 25-15, 25-12 and 25-19 victory over the Burros just two days after beating Independence and Ravenwood for the Region 6-AAA crown.

“They weren’t lackadaisical, but there was kind of a calm demeanor tonight,” Nolensville coach Brett Young said of his players. “We talked about making sure we kept our energy level up.”

Rickert led the way with 12 kills and five digs. Freshman Kaira Knox added eight kills, and senior Avery Young also had a busy night with five kills, four aces and 10 digs.

Setters Ellie Tant (16 assists) and Caroline Johnston (12 assists) kept the Nolensville offense in rhythm, while sophomore Maggie Allred came up with three blocks to add to her single-season school record of 138.

Hillsboro (23-13) was without its primary outside hitter in junior Mia Reese, who suffered a knee injury during the Region 5-AAA tournament earlier in the week. The Burros still managed to tie the second set at seven points apiece before Nolensville began to pull away.

Hillsboro’s 3-0 victory over Portland on Tuesday marked the first time a Metro Nashville Public School Class AAA volleyball program had won a region semifinal match in almost two decades.

Especially since the Burros had limited practice time due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing school construction, coach Sarah Rucker believes her team is just scratching the surface of its potential. Middle blockers Adrianna Jean-Jumeau and Derriona Salter are the program’s only seniors this year.

“This season has been beyond my wildest dreams in terms of achievements,” Rucker said. “A lot of times we didn’t even have a gym (for practice), and we still made a way to get into the top 16 in the state. That makes me super proud as a coach. These girls now understand who they are (as players).”

Nolensville is set to make its third straight state appearance starting next Tuesday at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro. This time the opponents will be different.

“We’re excited to get to play at the state tournament,” Young said. “Class AAA volleyball is a different animal than what we’ve seen the last couple of years, but I think we’re going to be ready and hopefully have a good week.”

Regardless of the results, Rickert knows it will be a fun few days.

Nolensville players won’t have to attend class for most of the week since state tournament games are held during the school day. Dozens of students are expected to join them in playing hooky.

“We always have a big student section because they get an excused absence if they show a ticket from the game,” Rickert said. “They don’t want to be in class. It’s really cool.”

Russell Vannozzi is the sports editor for Main Street Preps and Main Street Nashville. Vannozzi, a 2019 Lipscomb University graduate, was previously the sports editor for the Robertson County Connection. He has won multiple TPA and TSWA awards.

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