Cyclones eliminated, 'Horns  advance in 1-AA tournament

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   CHURCH HILL -- The District 1-AA volleyball tournament tipped off at Volunteer on Monday, as the Elizabethton Cyclones made an early exit while Johnson County advanced on to the next round.
   Elizabethton paired up against Volunteer in the first game of the night, with the Lady Falcons taking the match in two games, by the final of 15-8 and 15-5.
   "I changed them around a little," said Elizabethton coach Leslee Bradley. "I didn't have one of our starters tonight, so that messed them up some with timing and being around who they were comfortable with."
   The Cyclones grabbed the early advantage by scoring the first three points of the contest, after Lauran Marlow had an ace serve and Volunteer struggled on offense.
   It was all Lady Falcons after that point, as they rolled off 11 straight scores by dominating the net play while the Cyclones lacked in execution.
   "Volunteer played as well as I have ever seen them play before, and they put the ball in the hands of their big hitters and they know what to do with it," said Bradley.
   Elizabethton pulled within six, after Brandi Forbes scored off a kill and blocked an attempted kill by the Volunteer.
   But the Falcons were too strong with Nikki Price's leadership inside taking the first match 15-8.
   In the second set, the Falcons jumped out to a 5-0 lead before Elizabethton got on the board off a serve from Jennie Powell.
   Volunteer opened up a 13-1 advantage when Price had four aces and Ashleigh Dykes scored on a kill.
   "They have been playing better, and I told them this is a new season and forget the losses, so they were really fired up for this tournament," said Volunteer coach Tina Evans.
   The Cyclones closed within eight after few mishaps by the Falcons and a kill coming from Emilee Berry, but the deficit was too much, as Volunteer went on to win 15-5.
   "They were getting digs better, covering hits and making a lot of good kills, and I hope they can keep playing like this," said Evans.
   Johnson County struggled in their first game against the Lady Cougars of Sullivan Central, dropping both sets 15-5.
   Sullivan Central outhit the Longhorns as the size around the net came into play.
   "We spent too much time playing defense, and that's an easy thing to do when you're playing Central," said Johnson County coach Michele Cooke.
   The Cougars jumped out to a 3-0 lead before making a couple of misses that pulled the Longhorns within one.
   "I don't think we played as well as we have against them today, and they hit too many balls at the net," said Cooke.
   But the strong play from Lindsey McGrady down low and a nice job of serving from Beth Shelton was more than the Longhorns could endure.
   "We've kind of been up and down this season, and we went Saturday to Tennessee High and played really well," said Sullivan Central coach Tracy Graybeal.
   Johnson County tried to make a rally as Marlena Woods executed the on a hit, but McGrady was too much of a force to handle as she ended the game with a kill, sending the Longhorns to the loser's bracket to face Elizabethton.
   "We talked about being aggressive, and I felt like my players were as far as serving, passing and hitting, and that's what it's going to take to win this tournament," said Graybeal.
   With both Elizabethton and Johnson County playing for survival, it was the Longhorns who came out on top in this event by winning both sets 15-9 and 15-10.
   The Lady Cyclones came out on fire in the first set by grabbing a 6-0 lead.
   "I think they were mentally let down where they had played so hard the last game, and it just took them a minute," said Cooke.
   Elizabethton scored its first point on a set by Holly Pearson and kill from Powell.
   Five straight ace serves followed from Michelle Collins, which seemed to say that the Cyclones were well on their way to taking the first set.
   After an ace serve from Emilee Berry and Elizabethton maintaining a five-point advantage, the Longhorns scored seven unanswered points to go up 10-8.
   "They played a little bit better. We had more of a chance to set up our offense," said Cooke.
   Ashlee Billings stepped up for Johnson County, connecting on a couple of serves, and Ryann Tillman made back-to-back blocks at the net.
   Heather Burgess and Becca Boney finished things off for the Longhorns, as they connected on a couple of kills apiece with Johnson County winning 15-9.
   In the second set, it was a see-saw battle throughout with Johnson County taking charge in the later part of the contest.
   The first point of the game was scored when Nikki Davidson made an ace off of a serve. The Longhorns led 2-0 prior to the Cyclones stormed back to take an one-point advantage.
   A serve by Collins and a couple of miscues from the Longhorns put the Cyclones up 3-2.
   "We played a whole lot better in the second match, but give Johnson County a lot of credit because they weren't going to be denied," said Bradley.
   The battle continued to flip-flop back and forth, as neither team was able to gain a healthy margin with the score resting at 9-9.
   Elizabethton called a time-out after going down by one, when Elena Owens made an ace serve for the Longhorns.
   Johnson County went on to outscore the Cyclones 5-1 as Berry was unable to come up with a hit that flew into the net, making the final score 15-10.
   "This has been one of the most enjoyable teams to coach, and we tried everything we could come up with," said Bradley.
   The Longhorns move on to the next round, where they will face Volunteer tonight at 6.