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Girls lose to Cyclones in last conference match, but optimistic about tournamanet

The Lady Longhorns long tough road through the conference came to an end last week in a close match against the Elizabethton Lady Cyclones. Having played right with their opponents through all three games, the defeat was a disappointing end to the season, but also left some optimism for the girls’ tournament run against Sullivan North at Unicoi on Monday.
“We didn’t play bad, we just never could get over the hump,” said Coach Eric Crabtree. “Each game we’d close the gap but we just never could make it. We didn’t play terrible, but they played well, and we just couldn’t get enough points in a row. That last game we were up 24-21 but didn’t close the game. It ended up going 26-24. We were there, we tried, we played hard, but we made too many errors.”
Following the Elizabethton game on Tuesday, fans got the opportunity to see a sort of sneak peek of next week’s tournament bid as the Junior Varsity competed against North on Thursday. Much like their older counterparts, the JV has struggled with pulling together a complete match, but gave a valiant and exciting effort against the Lady Raiders.
Playing best two out of three, the JV battled back from a double-digit deficit early in the first game to finish up 19-25. Players like Sarah Grace Carlton and Kallie Sluder did very well on the offense while Abby Reece and Taylor Wallace came out strong at the net on defense. As Crabtree pointed out, one of the keys to volleyball is getting the early momentum.
“When you dig yourself a hole at 8-2, 8-4, 11-2, it is hard to come back,” Crabtree said. “You’ve got to start strong and stay strong. They were in every ball game, but we didn’t execute even though we played well at times. They’re a good group of girls. They tried hard and improved game by game. They just couldn’t put it together, kind of like varsity. They are mirror images. We got to 18-18 a bunch of times but we just couldn’t get from 18 to 25.”
The second game of the match was much the same, with North getting off to a huge seven-point lead early on that left Johnson County scrambling to catch up. Yet this time around the Lady Longhorns’ efforts almost gave them a victory as they finally made headway by climbing to 14-19. Ultimately Johnson County went on a huge rally very late in the game by holding North at 24 while they jumped all the way to 21. Had there been a few points leeway, the Lady Longhorns would very likely have come out on top, but at just one point away from taking the match, the Lady Raiders took advantage of one final missed dig to walk away victorious.
As Coach Crabtree pointed out after the match, both the JV and the Varsity have faced similar challenges this year, but have never lost their willingness to play or their drive to win. “We’ve been up and down,” Crabtree said. “It’s been a combination of new girls playing together, a combination of not executing, and the fact that everybody else in the conference is really good. Who do we play that’s not any good? If we played in Virginia where Patrick Henry is we’d win every time, but we’re not in that conference. We went down to Knoxville and beat a couple teams. We were the third best team down there behind South Greene and Cumberland. It will still be the same at conference tournament but I’m always optimistic.”
If there is one positive to the many narrow defeats and solid efforts the Lady Longhorns have made this year, it’s that those players returning will be in a much better position to win next season, a fact that Crabtree is already looking toward. “We’ve got a good mix of juniors and seniors for next year,” Crabtree said. “We’ve got several spots to fill for players like Brionna Reece, Brooke Brown, and Rachel Poteet, but we’ve got girls like Krista Warren, Demi Blevins, and Gianna Lay coming back and all these juniors coming up. We won’t be the same as we are this year, but we’ve got enough to sustain us. We’ve got a good group of girls that want to get better. We’ve just got to work harder to put the ball away.”