Longhorns' narrow defeat to Rebels feels like a win
By Jonathan PleasantThe Lady Longhorns fared much better at home in their second match against top ranked conference newcomers Sullivan South. Although the evening ultimately ended in a loss for Johnson County, the rallies were long, the fans excited, and the home team played in top form. Had the match been against almost anyone else in the conference it would have more than likely been a landslide for the Lady Longhorns, but even pulling in a narrow defeat against the Lady Rebels is a sort of victory in its own right.
“I thought we played a wonderful game,” said Head Coach Eric Crabtree. “I thought we played very good defense. We had offense. We moved, we talked. There were a few times that we bobbled and didn’t call it out but hey, although some people might say that South didn’t play as good a game, in actuality it was that we played a great game.”
The first round of the match saw the Lady Rebels jump ahead with a solid start, but Johnson County remained right on their heels. A strong serve from Rachel Poteet saw the Lady Longhorns trailing 3-6, but after a series of excellent performances from players like Demi Blevins and Brooke Brown, Johnson County eventually caught up and tied South at nine. The Lady Rebels were forced to play a much tougher game than they were initially anticipating and although South was able to start a huge drive of their own late in the game, Johnson County’s girls made them earn every point.
Ultimately the Rebel’s win came down to a fast and strong offense, with a couple of key players who are notorious for their kills. Yet, as Coach Crabtree pointed out, even South’s best players had to earn their keep. “ Number six and number nine killed us last time,” the coach reiterated. “They have a great offense. It comes from all over the place, all of them can hit, everything you do they have a great defense to go with it. They’re tough. There’s no holes, but we dug everybody. They were pounding us but we stood right there and took it. That was probably the best game we’ve played all year. I know it’s a loss, but against the number one team in the league that was an exceptional game.”
The second game proved to be even more of a confidence boost for the Lady Longhorns. In the first two serves Johnson County took the lead, and although South was quick to get it back the two teams stood neck and neck through the first six points. From there the Lady Longhorns went on their biggest run of the night, beginning with a notable block by Gianna Lay that was soon followed by another. Showing a great deal of team effort, Mollie Crowder pulled off a great save near the net that just barely made its way over and pushed Johnson County’s lead to 10-6.
Regrettably the Lady Rebels were able to get back into a devastating rhythm that Johnson County could do little to stop, but even as their opponents were climbing toward 25, the Lady Longhorns were able to claim 17. The third round was Johnson County’s last opportunity to keep the match going, needing at least one win to go three out of five. Even with intense support from the stands, there simply was no overcoming Sullivan South.
Even though the Lady Rebels got a huge early lead, every point for Johnson County became a victory of its own, and thanks to the efforts of players like Sarah Tierney there were plenty of close saves and narrow passes to keep fans on the edge of their seat. “We had a lot of great things,” Crabtree said about the effort. “If we play like that there’s not a lot of teams that can beat us. Tayla Clark had some great digs. Rachel Poteet and Brionna Reece had several kills; Gianna Lay had those big blocks. There’s something you could probably say out of all of them. It was an all around effort tonight and a fun match to watch.”
A final push saw Johnson County come within three points of the lead at 19-22, but with luck ever on their side, the Lady Rebels pulled together a final offense that gave them the last few points they needed to close out the night. When asked what made the difference this time around, Coach Crabtree felt that there were a number of factors in play.
“We adjusted our defense, the coach began. “We got up and played in their way. We played very shallow, and that was the big thing, we were in position and we got confidence. Some good things happened and it just kept going. We never got down on ourselves, we tried to make it loose and we played it much better that way. You have to realize, we’re playing a AAA team that just dropped down to a AA team, a team that hasn’t lost a conference game yet, but we made them work for it.”