Lady Longhorns in big over Eagles and Vikings
By Jonathan PleasantThe Lady Longhorns were off to a good start this week, pulling out big wins against the Tri-cities Christian (TCC) Lady Eagles and the Avery County Lady Vikings. The TCC match was a blowout in Johnson County’s favor, bringing two relatively easy wins in the first two rounds. Avery County, which is much more similar to Johnson County’s program proved to be a little more difficult, ultimately going four rounds with the Lady Longhorns narrowly picking up three.
Naturally, Coach Eric Crabtree was pleased with the recent success, and attributed much of it to the girls’ increasing ability to work as a team. “In the last two games we have cut down a lot on the communication errors,” Crabtree said. “We’re not going after balls we thought someone else had, we’re learning where to set it, where to be. We’ve really improved in that area, and it will continue to improve as we go along. Knowing, just reading each other, knowing when to be, where to be, it’s gotten a lot better in the last week. Everybody has just done really well.”
Crabtree saw strong performances in both matches, but was particularly impressed with the effort against the Vikings. The first game of that match saw Johnson County gain an early upper hand and maintain a narrow lead as they made their way to 25. However, Avery was never far behind, eventually finishing up five points down at 20. Most of that win was owed to the resiliency of players like Rachel Poteet and Tayla Clark, who had several strong saves as libero.
“Tayla had a really good game as libero against Avery County,” said Crabtree. “She had a rough game the first night but she really bounced back against Avery and had tons of digs. Rachel Poteet, Brionna Reece, and Brooke Brown have all played exceptionally well also. They’ve been able to put some kills down, and have really stepped up. Demi Blevins also served really well. Those are the ones that stood out the most, but we had some really good defensive plays against Avery.”
While Poteet stands as one of the team’s powerhouses on the offense, Crabtree also pointed out that strong blocking at the net has been key on the defense. “Early on we hadn’t had many blocks,” the Coach said. “But the last two matches, especially against Tri-cities Christian we had a ton of blocks. We had 12 against Avery, which is pretty good. Really it’s been Brionna, Rachel, Gianna Lay, and Brooke Brown. Those are our major players at the net. Brionna alone had six blocks that game, six out of the 12 against Avery. It comes down to having a good match up against them and getting your timing down. Blocking is all about timing and she’s had opportunities to really get her timing right.”
Even a strong defense couldn’t keep Avery away from a win in the second round of the match. Volleyball is a game of momentum, and the Vikings seized theirs early, quickly jumping ahead with a string of kills that made their way past the Lady Longhorn’s defense. Rapidly closing the gap on 25, Johnson County was still at 15 by the time Avery evened the score. The third game became a tiebreaker, with both teams vying for control. Strong efforts by both Sarah Tierney and Brionna Reece kept the Lady Longhorns just barely ahead, ending up with their second victory of the night at 25-23.
In fact, the two teams were so closely matched by their fourth game that the rallies began to grow longer as neither side was willing to give up a point. “We had several good rallies,” said Crabtree. “They’d spike it, we’d dig, we’d spike it, and they’d dig. It was just back and forth. Avery was a fun game to watch. Both teams played well. There weren’t a lot of aces so almost every ball was played. They made some great digs, we made some great digs, it was just a fun game to watch, a really fun game. It was a pity that the football game was that night. People missed a really, really good volleyball match.”
By the middle of the fourth round, it had become apparent that the momentum had shifted one final time in Johnson County’s favor. Although Avery kept up initially, a combined effort from the whole team saw the Lady Longhorns go into a final push that ultimately gave them the entire match. Reaching 25 that third and final time, the Lady Vikings were finally forced to accept defeat, despite their long and valiant effort.
For the Lady Longhorn’s coaching staff, the win was a good start though bigger challenges do loom ahead. However, for the time being the focus seems to be on taking things one match at a time. According to Crabtree, “We’ve played two very good games. We played an excellent game against Avery and Tricities Christian wasn’t bad, I just think the other team didn’t play as well. Avery played really good and we were able to overcome them and play really, really well. We’re very competitive with each other and they have a good program. It’s a good match for us. To begin the season 2-0 is a good way to start.”