The Lady Longhorn Junior Varsity volleyball team was the only Tennessee team present at the Virginia Highlands Community Classic at Patrick Henry High School this past Saturday. Playing against some of the best teams in Southwest Virginia, the Lady Longhorns got off to a rough start in their first match against the John Battle Lady Trojans, but made such an impact in their later games that they were able to leave the tournament with the championship.
Each team in the tournament played a series of four matches, with each match consisting of either two or three games. Playing best out of three, matches that went to the third round played to 15 rather than the standard 25. Johnson Countys first match was at 9 am against the John Battle Lady Trojans, followed by a match against the Northwood Lady Panthers at 11.
Johnson County came out strong in the first game of their match against John Battle. Taking the initiative, the girls were soon ahead 4-1 and thanks to a strong defense from players like Tayla Clark and Hannah Wheeler, the Lady Longhorns were able to put a sizeable lead behind them 17-6. The Lady Trojans began battling back by the end of the first game but it was too little too late, resulting in a final score of 25-12.
The second game of the match did not fare as well for Johnson County. A newly energized John Battle worked hard to ensure that they were the first to make the point, and catching the Lady Longhorns off guard, quickly jumped ahead 1-4. Undaunted, the Johnson County team fought back to a tie several times but began slipping behind toward the end of the game. Making a big sweep at the very last, John Battle managed to pull out the win with a score of 19-25.
Under shortened tournament rules the girls only played to 15 in their last match, with Johnson County the first to make their mark. Jumping ahead 6-1 it appeared as though the Lady Longhorns would make short work of their opponent thanks in part to a string of aces from servers like Abby Reece. The Lady Trojans would not be bested so easily and began to fight hard against the Lady Longhorn defense. Tying up at 7-7 John Battle finally took back the lead and with Johnson County never far behind ultimately achieved victory over the whole match, 10-15.
For Coach Mary Mays, the defeat was disappointing but would not set the pace for the tournament. This game is done and over, Mays said. I play two separate teams during tournaments. When its not conference like that I go ahead and play it like an A team B team. I have 13 girls and that lets everybody get a chance to get on the floor and play. The third game there was a mix up in the way the lineup came out, but the girls still played really well. The other coach came up and told me Great defense coach, great defense. I think that we had some really good three touches, where we passed it, we set it, and we finished it. Everything was working and that I was really happy with. Our serving was just outrageous. It was so good. Its always good.
Following a break between matches the Lady Longhorns were ready and determined to not allow their earlier loss shake their resolve. Coming out against the Northwood Lady Panthers, Johnson County dominated the court in their first game, blowing past Northwoods defense with a pile of aces and acting like a brick wall on defense. Before long the Lady Longhorns were ahead 12-4, and in only a matter of minutes had put their first win against the Lady Panthers behind them 25-8.
Regaining their composure after that first astounding loss, Northwood played a much stronger game in their second round. Keeping up through most of the game, the Lady Panthers still fell behind by three points several times but then buckled down about half way through and actually managed to take the lead. Using this momentum to their advantage the game quickly went from 11-12 to 12-17 with the Lady Longhorns trailing.
Knowing that a repeat of their earlier match would likely cost them a strong standing in the tournament, the Lady Longhorns began working together to make every serve count. Holding Northwood at 17, Johnson County slowly worked their way back to a better position, culminating in a big block by Demi Blevins that allowed the Lady Longhorns to tie the score. With the game back in their hands the Lady Longhorns made a push for the win, 25-20.
I was just thinking Ive got to get this. Blevins said about the block. I try not to get thoughts about whether or not we can pull it off because if I do Im just not able to make it. This one I felt a whole lot more confident. It just feels amazing. I cant even describe it. I love playing the net. We were way better. I think were coming together very nicely as a team.
For Coach Mays the victory was also directly a result of the strong team effort. It all worked out, Mays said. We just played more cohesively. It made more sense on the court. I think were getting more confidence and trusting each other more. Weve got great servers, but when push comes to shove our defense is what keeps us in this thing. We trust each other and were playing team ball. Its much cleaner at this point. It was awesome, just awesome.
That first win helped put Johnson County back on track for the rest of the evening, culminating in a championship match with a two game defeat for the Abingdon Lady Falcons at 25-16 and 25-20. Playing against big teams with a lot of experience, the Lady Longhorns were given an opportunity to showcase their skills and they did not disappoint.
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