Lady 'Horns push North to five sets in WC loss
By Marvin Birchfield
As the volleyball season is winding down, the Lady Longhorns are preparing and fine tuning for the upcoming district tournament.
On Tuesday, Johnson County took on Sullivan North, the second-place team in the Watauga Conference, and the outcome wasn't decided until the fifth game.
The Golden Raiders took the first game, but the Longhorns came back strong to win the next two games.
In the final two matches, it was Sullivan North taking control of the momentum to claim victory in the overall contest.
"They played to their potential I think, and it was just a little stuff here and there like missed serves at crucial times, although we didn't have as many as we usually do," said Johnson County coach Michele Cooke. "They played hard though, and I really couldn't have asked for anything better."
It was senior night for Johnson County, which fell behind 6-0 in the first match before capturing its first point. From there, a hit from senior Laura Peters followed by two kills from Ryan Tillman cut the deficit in half.
Johnson County went on an 8-1 run to grab the lead,, and after getting a couple of ace serves from Katie Nelson, the Longhorns had built a three point advantage.
North came back to go on a 10-2 run in the final minutes to take a 25-20 victory.
The second set was a game of spurts, with the last one coming from Johnson Co.
The Golden Raiders took an 18-15 lead after Lindsey Vaughn came up with a block at the net.
It was the Longhorns who executed in the later stage, with Sarah Wright scoring off of seven consecutive serves to give them a five-point advantage.
"We served better than what we usually do, but just not at certain times when we needed to," said Cooke. "We stepped it up tonight, but North is an excellent team, and it was a great game to watch."
The game ended with a set coming from Alysa Billings for Tillman, who made the winning kill.
The third set saw Johnson County come back after trailing in the early going.
A couple of scores off the serves of Shyan Redmond gave North a 10-6 lead, but the Longhorns went on a monstrous run toward the end, reeling off 10 straight points to take a 23-15 lead.
The Longhorns put an end to the set with a hit from Nelson, who finished with 14 kills to secure a 25-20 victory.
"We played excellent and it was one of the best games we've ever played, but they were more active and wanted it more tonight," said Nelson. "Most likely we'll see them in the tournament again and get a rematch to see who the better team is."
The fourth game was another classic battle, with neither team being able to make too big of a run and gain breathing room.
Johnson County took a slim advantage of 22-21 after a kill from Peters and hit out of bounds by North's Amanda Carroll.
"We had a few missed serves and simple mistakes that hurt us a little bit, but overall we played hard and gave it our best shot, so I don't begrudge the game at all," said Peters. "We knew it was going to be a battle. They had beat us pretty bad twice already, but we knew we could play with them if we stuck together, and we proved that we did."
It was the Golden Raiders taking control at the end by scoring the last four points, with an ace from Redmond winning the set, 25-22.
This set up the showdown for the final game in the best-of-five series, which had been a volleyball fan's dream to watch all night long.
"This was senior night for Johnson County, and I think they came out ready to play," said Sullivan North coach Vicki McGlothlin. "I think we came out ready in the first game and then laid back in the second game. The momentum seemed to change after that first game, but that's volleyball."
Both teams did an excellent job of making digs and keeping the ball alive when it seemed like the other side had made the perfect hit to grab the score.
North built an 8-4 lead halfway through the set, but the Longhorns made a rally as they had done in all previous games.
Johnson County pulled to within one point after Tillman connected on a couple of kills at the net.
It was North, though, which connected at the end, getting back-to-back kills from Vaughn and Redmond to finish out the set.
"I'm really proud of the girls for fighting back after losing the second and third games, especially with the effort," said McGlothlin. "I think we've got to come out ready more than what we were in this match tonight, because at this point in the season you can't take anyone for granted."