MURFREESBORO - The Portland Lady Panther volleyball team will play for a third consecutive Class AA state championship Thursday afternoon at MTSU after beating Nolensville High School 3-1 (25-13, 16-25, 25-20 and 25-19) in the semifinal round at Blackman High School. 

The second-set loss for Portland is their first set dropped since their final regular season game on Oct. 3 against Mt. Juliet.

“We talked on Monday, Tuesday and today that it was very possible that we would drop a set, so it was about how would we react,” Portland head coach Rob Lesemann said. “It’s been a long time since we dropped a set, so how do we respond? Do we respond by dropping our heads, or do we decide to pick it up and play better? Thankfully, we decided to pick it up and play better. They were able to settle down in that third set.”

Portland closed out the first set 25-13 with relative ease after jumping out to a 15-2 lead. 

“Halfway through the first game, it settled into what I thought the match would be,” Lesemann said. “I think [Nolensville] got over their nerves and butterflies and settled in nicely. It was nice to win the first one the way that we did.”

Nolensville bounced back to take set two 25-16, as Portland never got within three points after cutting the Knights’ lead to 15-13. 

“They play a really good defense, pass the ball really well, serve well and just do everything well,” Lesemann said of Nolensville. “But so do we. We have been looking forward to playing them, and I think we will see them [Thursday in the championship].This is by far the best team we have played here. I think it will be a good match again if we play them.”

In the second set, the Lady Panthers were doomed by several unforced errors and communication issues, leading to multiple points for the Lady Knights. 

“I think we did get confused a few times,” Lesemann said. “It is loud in here and can be hard to hear one another. They got rattled for a few points, and when that happens against a good team, it magnifies.” 

Portland bounced back in the third set winning 25-20 after jumping out to leads as big as eight points. 

“I think we took our time after [the] second set and relaxed a little bit,” Lesemann added. “It was a challenge to our girls to just do your job.”

After taking a 2-1 advantage into the fourth set, Portland rolled to a 10-point lead before Nolensville was forced to call timeout. 

Leading 22-15, Portland closed out the match with the 25-19 win to secure a spot in the title game.

“This is a very confident group,” Lesemann said. “My seniors are all very confident in each other and the team. You have to prove that you can beat them. They are not ones that will sit around and give you the game. They go out there and they fight to the very end, and it is a blast to coach a team like that.” 

Portland will rematch play Nolensville Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at MTSU. The Knights beat East Hamilton 3-1 in the loser’s bracket finals. 

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