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Lady Longhorns fight hard in district volleyball tournament

For the first time in years Johnson County High School got the opportunity to host the Girls District Volleyball tournament, kicking off the four day long event Monday in a very close match up between the Lady Longhorns and the Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils. Both teams were tied after the first two games, with Unicoi taking the initiative and gaining the first win 18-25. Johnson County was up next, bouncing back from the first round to earn their first victory 25-17.
With both teams back on a level playing field 1-1 overall, the Lady Blue Devils turned up the heat one more time, jumping ahead to gain more than double the points that Johnson County could muster, all in a matter of minutes. Behind by 9 at 8-17, the Lady Longhorns put up a good fight but simply could not overcome such a huge early deficit. By the end of the third game Johnson County had gained 3 more points to put them at 12, but Unicoi continued to pound their way to 25.
In a total flip of circumstances, the Lady Longhorns were the ones to make a big first impression in the fourth round, jumping ahead 4-0 in a series of successful volleys, playing an extremely strong game at the net thanks to players like Sarah Swift, Haley Miller, and Brionna Reece. Swift had the most uncanny luck of the match, making net shot after net shot, where the ball hit and rolled over the top before Unicoi had a chance to react. Those narrow and often critical points allowed Johnson County to continue their initial push and blow past Unicoi, maintaining a more than 15 point lead at times.
“We made the shots we needed to make, said Lady Longhorns Coach Eric Crabtree. “They weren’t always pretty, but we made them when we had to make them and that’s about all I can ask for. You have to have net shots every once in a while that hit and sort of roll over. It happens in every game.”
The back and forth physical control of the match, and the consequential emotional highs and lows that came with it, began to take their toll on the players, leaving some visibly drained. “Honestly I’m exhausted,” said the Lady Longhorns’ Katelynn Stout at the end of the night. “We played very hard and we pulled it out in the end. As long as we keep playing together as a team and on top of things, they can’t stop us. Unicoi is always one of our toughest because their game of volleyball and ours are so different. Sometimes they bring us to their level, but every now and then when we bring them to ours we can do it.”
Bringing in their second win at 25-9, the match was once again evened back up, carrying over into a fifth game to determine the final victor. Playing to only 15 in a single elimination match which would determine who would continue on in the tournament, the pressure was high to make every point. Johnson County got the initial point, but Unicoi was quick to take the lead early, pulling ahead 1-3. Sarah Swift had a few more lucky net shots up her sleeve, allowing the Lady Longhorns to tie back up at 3 and then go into a run that gave them the lead at 6.
The Lady Blue Devils faltered for just long enough for Johnson County to climb to 10, while they remained at 6, but the tables turned once more as the Lady Longhorns found trouble gaining the last two points needed to win the match. Stuck at 14, Johnson County watched anxiously as one after another Unicoi began making critical points, climbing all the way from a seven-point deficit to come within two points of a tie.
As Katelynn Stout pointed out, the Longhorns did ultimately make their last shot with one last assist from Swift. “Sometimes we have a hard time finishing our last point,” Stout said. “Every great team has their challenges and ours is finishing. I never really doubted we could win but there was a time there when we kind of fell apart as a team and that scared me. I knew that if we could get back in that team aspect then we’d be good. We just have to get everybody playing together. As long as no one gets mad at one another and we can play as a team and actually encourage one another we’re unstoppable.”
Speaking after the game, Coach Crabtree confirmed that the match was a lot closer than he would have liked. “Both teams played well. Both made mistakes, both made good plays. We just killed ourselves in those games we lost. We didn’t do what we normally do. Normally we have good passers, good setters, good defense, and those games we lost we just didn’t do any of those well. It might be because it was a Monday. We were off today, we weren’t in school. Who knows what they ate at home, how many hours they slept, what time they went to bed last night. Unicoi played very well; we were just fortunate enough to turn it on at the end. We always have close games. Even if we beat them in 3 it’s always close. I can’t take anything away from them,” he said.
Having won their first match, the Lady Longhorns progressed into the second round of the tournament, this time against the number one seeded Sullivan East Lady Patriots. Unfortunately for Johnson County a string of bad luck in a match against the toughest team in the district proved disastrous. Things went badly from the very first game against East, with the Lady Patriots striking hard and fast, allowing them to come up with a huge 13-25 win.
Having been dealt such a tough blow so early on, Johnson County struggled to get into the swing of things, and as a result actually came up worse in the second game, losing 11-25. Realizing they had to have a win to stay in the match, the Lady Longhorns put up a much better fight in their third game, making the first point and staying a slight step ahead of East for the first few volleys, but the sheer power of the much taller and more experienced team eventually allowed the Lady Patriots to take the lead.
Even then Johnson County remained within reach of a win for the whole first half, but by the time East had started climbing into the teens, leaving the Lady Longhorns behind at 10, it was obvious that things were not going well for the home team. In the end Johnson County held on for a few more points, closing out at 13 while the Lady Patriots went on to claim the match at 25.
“They’re just a good ball team,” Crabtree said after the match. “If you’re going to go down, you might as well go down against the best. Overall this season we played really well. We missed some spots. There are a couple of games we’d like to have back, but overall we tried hard every game, and we were in every game except for tonight. We competed and that’s all you can ever ask for. The girls had great attitudes; they worked hard and tried hard. We just fell short tonight. We just couldn’t get the bounces, and that happens in a game. When you’re playing against a good team, every missed hit matters. You’ve got to really take your chances when you get them. East is a well-coached team, with strong players who are way taller than we are. They played hard.”

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