Central trips Lady 'Horns in 1-AA final

By Marvin Birchfield
star staff

  The District 1-AA volleyball championship was settled on Thursday night, with the Sullivan Central Lady Cougars winning all three sets over Johnson County.
  The Cougars were the number one seed coming into the tournament, while the Lady Longhorns advanced by defeating a good quality Sullivan North club.
  Johnson County was looking for early control and another big win coming in, but it was Sullivan Central rushing out of the gate right from the start by going up 10-0 in the first set.
  "This is what we've worked for all season and summer long, so I told my kids last week that the season has just started," said Sullivan Central coach Tracy Graybeal. "We finished 32-13, so now we're 40-some matches into the season, and my kids came out fired up with a good team effort."
  The Cougars started off being in control and doing what was necessary to keep the ball in play, while the 'Horns were desperately looking to match the pace.
  Johnson County felt the pressure of trailing the regular-season champs, as it was unable to make any headway in a 25-10 defeat.
  "My three seniors stepped up and had a great night, and this was our fourth district championship in a row, so we were working for it," said Graybeal. "Our season motto all year long is to take care of us, and when we do that we seem to do well."
  The second match was played with better execution, which saw the 'Horns grab the early lead.
  Johnson County stayed ahead in the contest most of the way to lead by as many as three points and cling to a late advantage of 16-15.
  The Cougars' ability to come up with digs and set up for the kill enabled them to go on a 10-3 run to end the contest at 25-19.
  "We've had a good season and continuously gotten better, even though we might not have shown it tonight," said Johnson County coach Michele Cooke, whose squad was already qualified for the regional. "We didn't serve well at all and we didn't move well, and those are things we're going to have to work on."
  The third and final contest swung in the favor of the Cougars after the Cougars gained control and grabbed a 6-2 advantage at the beginning.
  "The good thing about my girls is usually when they get down they come back and fight, and we've been in those situations before and come back, but tonight wasn't one of those," said Cooke. "We've got at least another game to play, so we have to forget about tonight and get ready and move onto the next one."
  Alysa Billings was able to score off a dig in an effort to rally back the 'Horns, but a kill on the next play from tournament MVP Julie LeSueur kept the momentum from switching.
  "It feels great, and I hope we can go on and play well and do good in the regionals and then onto the state," said LeSueur. "We like having fun and playing together, and this is what we've worked for all season. And now that it's crunch time. Hopefully, we'll do good."
  Spikes converted by Ryann Tillman and Sarah Wright kept Johnson County in striking distance, but the Cougars seemed to be more poised in their play by not letting them get into the flow of the game.
  Ashley Quesenberry was effective around the net for the Cougars by winning the battles and scoring a total of 11 kills.
  Central went on a final run of 5-1 to end the contest at 25-14, after Johnson County was unable to make digs at the end.
  Central had four players -- Stacy Wingate, conference Defensive Player of the Year Quesenberry, LeSueur, and Beth Shelton, who was also named Conference Player of the Year -- named to the all-tournament team.
  Making all-tournament for the 'Horns were Amy Cardwell, Billings, and Conference Hitter of the Year Tillman.
  "I was really disappointed after we beat North because I thought we'd come in here and play Central a hard close game, but it's going to be better when we go to regionals, I think," said Tillman. "We've worked really hard and had a lot to accomplish this year and a lot more support.
  "We had some injuries and a few young people to step up big, so that's why we're going far this year."