By Tim Chambers
It wasn’t the outcome that head coach Donna Poteet wanted, but it’s a 90-degree turnaround from a year ago. Her Lady Longhorns fought Sullivan East tooth and nail before falling in straight sets 26-24, 25-18 and 25-14.
The Patriots had defeated Johnson County by a sizeable margin during last year’s trip to Ray Shoun Gymnasium, but this time they had to battle for every point. The Horns led the first set 24-23, only to see East storm back to take it with three straight points.
They also managed to build a five-point advantage in the second set but couldn’t hold off the charging Patriots.
“We got down 2-0 and then they bring a good server in,” said Poteet. “It’s a big step up from where we were, but we still must learn how to win. Consistency has been a problem before, but this team is starting to get better. I feel like East might be the second best team in the conference, but we had a chance to win against them. I was very pleased with the way we played. We’re right there knocking on the door but we’ve not opened it yet.”
Things started off well for the Longhorns in the first set. Caitlin Leonard and Brittney Brooks served up a pair of points apiece in addition to Faith Poteet’s spike that gave them a 7-3 advantage.
East cut the deficit to 8-7 behind the net play of Kelseay Smith and Sierra Arnold, but the gutsy play of Eden Fenner kept the Longhorns in business.
The senior libero successful delivered 15 digs in the first match including four via way of the diving variety. She delivered a saving hit that fell for a point that allowed Johnson County to take a 22-20 lead.
Courtney Brooks added a point and Leonard laid down a spike, but the ‘Pats would tally the next three points to secure the set.
“We’ve improved tremendously since the last time that we played,” said Fenner. “We’ve been moving more and getting digs that we never got in past games. I think we’re seeing the ball more and getting to it a lot better. Losing that first set was frustrating but everyone gave it all they had. If we clean up a few things the wins will start coming along with it.”
Johnson County started the second set strong by jumping on top 5-1 behind a pair of points from Kam Sluder. Fenner’s soft tap and a couple of nice volleys from Poteet and Courtney Brooks allowed the Longhorns to surge ahead 10-6.
East didn’t back down but instead got key points from Hannah Daniel and Alyssa Haire to tie the game at 11-11. Cadie Todt’s point off of Arnold’s dig triggered a 5-0 run, putting the ‘Pats in front 16-11.
The Horns got within four at 22-18, but the Patriots were able to strike for three straight points including one ace to win the match.
The effects of losing two close sets would take its toll on the Horns in their final one. East sprang out to a 14-2 lead before winning it 25-11.
Brittney Brooks and Poteet served up 11 points each in the three sets. Courtney Brooks had six points and several nice volleys. Leonard played well, collecting 12 kills in addition to 10 assists. Fenner dazzled the crowd with 15 assists and 30 digs.
“You can’t say enough about the way Eden played tonight,” added Poteet. “She is one of the senior leaders that makes our team go. I thought Caitlin played well and so did Faith, Kam and the Brooks twins. Our junior varsity and freshmen teams stepped up too. Renie Morrow, Natalie Winters and Taylor Parsons played good and so did Abby Cornett. I’m excited about our younger kids. They are a close knit group that wants to do well.”
East 31-29, 25-11
The junior varsity squad gave fans their money’s worth in the first set during their extended game. The Longhorns had four chances to win but fell 31-29 in the first set.
The Longhorns rode the stellar play of libero Natalie Winters in this one. The freshman phenomenon cleaned the court for 13 digs while classmate Taylor Parsons added six assists and a trio of kills.
Points from Renie Morrow and Abby Cornett gave the Longhorns a 23-21 lead, but the Patriots would battle back to tie the game at 25-25.
The teams would swap points until Morrow’s spike gave Johnson County a chance to win at 29-28. East continued to fight back and scored the next three points to pull out a 31-29 victory. They took the second match 25-11 after building a 10-4 advantage.
Margaret Morrow and Kaylee Whittenburg played outstanding at the net for the Longhorns in both sets.
The freshmen team fell 25-23 and 25-13.
Hannah Brooks were 11 digs to lead the way. Taylor Cox served up 11 points to lead the Longhorns in that department.