Just as Friday’s Class AAA state volleyball championship between Brentwood and Siegel was about to begin, a plastic jeweled crown sat on an empty folding chair next to Brentwood assistant coaches Angie Noble and Cathy Cram.

The memento, normally used to celebrate player birthdays, was a reminder of the team’s ‘Queen’ – legendary head coach Barbara Campbell, who had been away since late September dealing with health issues.

That’s when Campbell walked in the back door of Siegel’s gym to a thunderous applause. The crown was moved aside and Campbell took a seat on the bench, just as she had during 15 previous state championship victories over the last 33 years.

“The moment I walked in I was glad I was here,” she said.

Campbell’s surprise return provided more than enough boost for the Lady Bruins to get No. 16.

Brentwood swept Siegel 25-7, 25-18 and 25-14 to win its eighth straight state tournament title. Alabama commitment Shaye Eggleston registered a match-high 21 kills, including the final point in the third set.

“The way the girls rose to the occasion like that just honored me,” Campbell said. “It showed how much they wanted it. It sure is fun to coach kids that want to win and play like that.”

Some players looked stunned when Campbell arrived. Others even started crying, including senior middle blocker Mary Oldham.

“I was on the back line and I could not see anything because I had tears in my eyes,” Oldham said. “It was so cool. No one was expecting it. The team felt complete when she came back.”

It’s easy to see why Campbell has gained such respect from her players and opponents alike. She is the state’s all-time winningest volleyball coach with 1,765 career victories and was inducted to the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Every single thing that we do, and every time that we win, is a complete reflection of her,” Eggleston said. “She’s a rock for us. She’s always been that. I can always count on her. We all respect her.”

The Lady Bruins (38-3) controlled the match from the start. Zoe Oldham (six kills), Mary Oldham (five kills) and Hollye Tate (five kills) helped Eggleston on offense, while Sophie Frolich and Meredith Moody led Brentwood with eight digs apiece. Dylan Sulcer finished with 22 assists.

The championship meeting was the fifth between the two teams this season. Siegel pulled out a 3-2 win on Sept. 23, but Brentwood won the other three matches.

“We know what they are, and they know all our tendencies,” Noble said. “Then it’s just about who is on that day. And it happened to be our day.”

Siegel coach Patricia Thwaits agreed. The Lady Stars, after winning four straight games to claw out of the losers’ bracket, had the unenviable task of trying to beat a juggernaut fueled by extra motivation.

“I think their players, probably this year more than any other year, were playing with a purpose for Barbara,” Thwaits said. “It was fun to watch them come together as a team to play for their coach.”

Brentwood’s five seniors – Eggleston, Frohlich, Reese Bailey, Mary Oldham and Haley Sanders – finished their high school careers with 170 wins and four state championships. During a season constantly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team’s eldest players stayed even-keeled.

“They grew up in that (winning) tradition and know what it feels like,” Noble said. “They know the right thing to do at the right time. They have lived it four times now. Even when players went into quarantine throughout the season, the next player stepped up and the leadership never let the ball drop.”

And as if winning yet another state championship wasn’t enough excitement for Campbell, who is still regaining her strength, one of her daughters was expecting a baby girl as early as Friday night.

“I feel a lot better now, and I think we’re going to have a baby soon too,” Campbell said. “The 23rd is a day to remember.”

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