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Longhorn volleyball stands proud against strong rival

The Sullivan South Lady Rebels are easily the toughest team in Johnson County’s volleyball conference. Yet, despite this reputation, the Lady Longhorns came into Kingsport last week with their heads held high and left just the same, making a solid effort that no one could dispute or deny. Johnson County’s girls went three rounds against the Rebels, stumbling in the first but then regaining their composure to lead much of the second, and remain competitive in the third.
The Lady Longhorns had a difficult time against players who regularly compete on travel teams in the off-season. “They were just a good team,” said head coach Eric Crabtree. “I thought we played hard. I thought we played well at times, but many of them have had a lot of experience. Travel ball really helps. They were a really good team and they played a very fast pace and you have to get used to that pace. We haven’t played anybody all year that plays at that speed, with that power, with that versatility, and it takes a little time to adjust.”
The first game of the match was a blowout that went against the Longhorns. South had five points before Johnson County got their first, and even then it was from a bad serve. The score had climbed to nine before Brionna Reece finally got a block that the Lady Rebels couldn’t compensate for, but stuck at two, Johnson County could do little but watch as South climbed steadily into the teens. Two back to back out of bounds serves pushed the Longhorns to four, yet with the exception of two more points later in the game, South plowed their way to 25 largely unopposed on the score board.
This shocking defeat was not a reflection of bad playing on Johnson County’s part but rather an immaculate showing from South that left even Coach Crabtree stunned. “They had almost a perfect first game,” Crabtree said. “They’re also at home and we just got off a long bus ride. They played very well, but there are a lot of factors that went into that first game. Fortunately we bounced back the second and third game, and even in the first game, if you had it on video, although the score was terrible we did some really good things. They just put the ball away. We didn’t have a lot of mistakes or missed serves; they just put the ball away.”
The tables turned drastically in the second game as Johnson County took to the court swinging in an effort to gain the momentum. South took the first three rallies, but the Lady Longhorns were soon on fire, going into an uninterrupted eight-point push that gave them a strong lead thanks in part to a kill from Brionna Reece and a couple of very good serves by Mollie Crowder. South was able to get back into the fray with a point of their own, but not before Johnson County put up two more in a joint effort from players across the team, including Rachel Poteet, Brooke Garr, and Sarah Tierney.
Not to be out done, the Lady Rebels began to fight back, cutting the lead to 4 at 13-9. Seeing the gap close, Johnson County scrambled to get back in rhythm, but South was quick to seize any weakness. Another big push and two or three rallies in their favor and the Lady Rebels were once again in charge, eventually driving home a second win at 25 while Johnson County tailed just behind at 21.
Having seen their chances of evening the score dwindle, the energetic optimism of the second game turned to grim determination on the faces of Johnson County’s players in the third and final round. The effort remained strong with several very close saves that often ended with hard hits on the floor. After only a few minutes into the game the writing was already on the wall. South put up their first six points without an answer from the Longhorns. An out of bounds serve gave Johnson County their first point, yet South was already at 14 by the time the Longhorns were able to pull together a short drive of their own. A series of strong serves landed Johnson County at five and it was not until the Lady Rebels were already into the low 20s that the Longhorns had breached double digits. Fighting until the very last point, Johnson County ended up with a disappointing but determined 12-25 loss.  
Focusing on the team’s effort, Coach Crabtree was in relatively good spirits after the match. “Everybody did something good at times,” Crabtree said.  “We got thrown a lot of good balls. We attacked. Brooke Brown and Rachel Poteet had some attacks, saves, and, serves. Taylor Clark had a couple saves; Krista Warren had a couple saves. Brionna Reece got a lot of hands on the ball from blocks and she got some kills.  Overall everybody did some good things tonight. Did anybody really stand out? Well, probably not, but overall everybody competed. It wasn’t lack of effort; it’s just that we played a really good team tonight.”