Sullivan Central surges into final; Lady Longhorns fall by wayside

Michelle Pope
Sullivan County apparently breeds talented volleyball players. After the second night in the District 1 tournament in the Watauga Conference, Sullivan North will face the undefeated Sullivan Central on Thursday night for the championship in Treadway Gym.
After defeating Johnson County Monday evening, Central faced North in the game that determined the first seat in the championship match.
Central prevailed, pitting North against the winner of the match between Johnson County and Volunteer High in the double elimination tournament.
Johnson County won the first set in the game against Volunteer, 25-15. The Lady Longhorns went on an early scoring run, taking the lead at 11-2, with nine unanswered points. Laura Peters and Ryann Tillman shared the driving power, as Peters served three aces, and Tillman made four kills.
Ashleah Dykes scored twice on kills, helping boost the Lady Falcons' score to six, but the Longhorns gained five more consecutive points, taking a giant 17-6 lead.
An ace from Katie Nelson, and kills by Elena Owens and Peters almost finished the match, with Johnson County holding 23 points over Volunteer's nine.
Volunteer had a final surge of intensity at the end, as they scored six points, including kills from Brittany Mabe and Amanda Burchfield, and a service ace from Dykes. However, Owens contributed another Longhorn kill, and Tillman clinched the set with the 25th point.
Volunteer held the upper hand in the beginning of the second set. Three Longhorn outs and a kill from Mabe placed the Lady Falcons in a 4-1 lead, which they turned to their advantage by holding tightly to it.
Peters and Nelson each served aces, Tillman spiked two kills, and Owens scored on a kill, but the Lady Longhorns could not recover for the win. Repeated kills from Mabe and Dykes kept Volunteer a few steps ahead, and they won the second set 25-18, tying the game at 1-1.
Tillman took center stage for the Longhorns in the third set, scoring four of the first five points with kills. Johnson County kept a firm hold on the lead for the first half of the set, and seemed poised to take the win when the score showed 18-13.
However, Volunteer quickly rebounded, and scored their last twelve points while simultaneously holding Johnson County to four points. The set ended with a score of 22-25.
"It's a tough conference. It's a tough bunch to play against," said Johnson County coach Michele Cooke. "I always enjoy it. It's a good group of girls overall, out of all the teams, and it's a good group of coaches."
The final set was a hard-fought match for both sides. Tillman started strongly again for Johnson County, scoring on a block and two kills.
Volunteer wasn't far behind, and soon tied the score at six. A four-point Falcon scoring run followed, which included a kill by Steevie Caldwell. The score remained in Volunteer's favor throughout the rest of the match, but the Lady Falcons never reached further than a six-point lead on Johnson County.
Owens served two aces and made a kill for the Lady Longhorns, and Ashely Howard and MiChel Hornsby each contributed a kill.
For Volunteer, Burchfield and Mabe both tipped the ball over the net for points, and Caldwell and Dykes scored on spikes. The Lady Falcons took the last and final win 25-20.
"I wish we would have come out on top," said Coach Cooke. "I thought we might have a chance, and we did. We played OK -- we competed. We'll be back Thursday to watch. It's going to be exciting. I have confidence in these teams that are going on, that they'll represent us well."
Johnson County finished its season with a 22-18 record. Tillman made 16 kills against Volunteer, and 42 in the entire tournament. Owens had 13 tournament service points, 27 kills, and 79 digs.
Peters scored 14 of her 37 total service points Tuesday night, and made 30 of 94 tournament digs. Alysa Billings made 36 of her 80 tournament assists against Volunteer.
Michele Cooke has high hopes for her team next year. Elena Owens is Johnson County's lone senior, so the team will not have to start anew, a problem several teams in the conference face.
"We only lose one," she said. "It'll be a loss, but I think we have people to step in. We've got to work on trying to find people to specialize for us. It's hard on the girls that play all the way around all the time, but they're capable. I think we'll be competitive again."
After its win over Johnson County, Volunteer advanced to battle Sullivan North for the second seat in the championship match. North triumphed in three sets, with scores of 25-17, 25-17, and 25-18.
North will face Sullivan Central this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the district championship.