Lady Longhorns turn back Betsy in three

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The Johnson County-Elizabethton volleyball match Tuesday night provided more excitement than driving a Pontiac.
   In the end, it was the Lady Longhorns who drove away with the victory as Johnson County pulled out a thrilling 15-7, 11-15, 15-13 win over the Lady Cyclones at Treadway Gym.
   The win gives the Lady 'Horns a 1-0 mark in Watauga Conference play.
   Last season, Johnson County failed to win a conference game.
   "We are so excited," Johnson County setter Ashley Billings said. "We have the greatest team this year. We are ready to go on to the next game and dominate."
   After the Lady Longhorns won the first game easily, the Lady Cyclones turned it up a notch. Eight-straight service points by Michelle Collins put the Lady Cyclones up 9-2, and EHS went on to take that frame.
   But there was no giving up in the Johnson County players on Tuesday night. According to Johnson County head coach Michele Cooke, the girls just forgot about the second game.
   "My girls fight really hard," Cooke said. "They didn't roll over and die. I'm so proud of them for that. They fought back. We came a long way."
   In the third game, which was played by the rally-point scoring system they use in collegiate matches, Elizabethton seemed to have the momentum going. The Lady Cyclones were up 12-11 and serving, but the Lady 'Horns stepped up to win four of the final five points to take the match.
   The final point was put away by senior Nikki Davidson, who hit a brilliant kill to close the match out.
   EHS head coach Leslee Bradley was very proud of her team for hanging in there.
   "I'm not upset at all," Bradley said. "It hurts not to get that win. We didn't play well the first game, and I didn't have them prepared obviously for the first game. But they turned it around and made adjustments that we needed to make, and really came back strong. And I thought we were going to do it."
   On the other hand, Cooke thought her team made the plays in those key final few points.
   "They stuck together, and again the teamwork came through," Cooke said. "They found some pride within themselves."
   Experience might have played a factor in this one. With Holly Pearson out sick, the Lady Cyclones had only one starter from last year's team on the floor.
   The Lady Longhorns are an older team, with six seniors on the roster.
   "It did," Bradley said when asked if experience played a role in Johnson County's win. "We had a bunch of long rallies, and the majority of those went their way. That's definitely an experience thing. We were hustling, but eventually we ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time.
   And a team with more experience is going to be able to play those balls better."
   Cooke was very proud of her seniors on Tuesday night.
   "My seniors had a pretty good game," Cooke said. "I said it at the beginning and it hasn't change much, I've got a good bunch of seniors. And even though we've named two captains, they all work together so well, any one of them could be. They're a good bunch."
   Davidson and Elena Owens each had five kills for the Longhorns.
   Billings led Johnson County with 10 service points, while Davidson finished with nine.
   Owens topped the Lady 'Horns with 15 digs.
   Collins played a remarkable game for the Lady Cyclones, as she finished with 13 service aces. Bradley admitted this loss is part of a learning process for her young team. She thinks it will make EHS very hungry against Volunteer Thursday night.
   "They want to win more," Bradley said. "Now that we came that close to tasting it, and weren't able to get it. I think Thursday they'll be pumped up ready to get that first win."
   While EHS tries to regroup, Billings and the Lady Longhorns are ready to ride the momentum of this win into the rest of the season.
   "We have really great captains," Billings said. "We have really good teamwork. We work real hard together. We've played together since seventh grade, and we're really excited this year. I've decided that we're going to win."
   The Lady Longhorns will take on Sullivan Central in Blountville Thursday night at 6:30. The start of the Lady Cyclones' home match with the Lady Falcons Thursday evening will take place at 7:30.