Lady 'Horns bow to Rebels

Asst. Sports Editor

  GREENEVILLE--The Region 1-A/AA volleyball tournament finished up Tuesday night at South Greene High School, where the Johnson County Lady Longhorns had a substate berth in their eyes.
  Instead, the Lady 'Horns fell to the South Greene Lady Rebels in the semifinals, 3-1, through tough fought matches, 24-26, 18-25, 25-21, 19-25.
  "You always have high expectation when you make it this far," Johnson County head coach Michele Cooke said. "You want to do your best and you want to play hard. It is difficult to lose knowing that we were in the game the entire time.
  "I am really proud of these girls but I just really feel like they should still be in there right now. I have a great group of girls. They fight hard and they play hard."
  In the first round of the semifinals, the Sullivan Central Lady Cougars advanced to the finals over West Greene, 25-23, 25-21, 25-17.
  In the third match, West Greene was up over the Lady Cougars by 11-9 but lost it on bad serve returns and trouble at the net.
  In the Lady Longhorns' first game, the score was never separated by more than three. It was tied 24-24 when Central forced up two errors to take it by an inch.
  The second game was a stretch for the Johnson County squad, going down early 8-1 but rebounding with powerful kills by Ryann Tillman and Sarah Wright. Wright also had two straight aces to help her team out of the hole.
  Things would get heated up in the third game, when some questionable calls went out against the 'Horns squad, but the calls seemed to motivate the girls even more. The team capitalized on a handful of out-of-bound returns from the Rebels, and Katie Nelson stepped up to the net for a handful of kills. Amy Cardwell and Nelson also were doing some tricky work keeping the ball up with some much needed digs.
  The match was tied up 18-18 when the Horns forced some bad returns and some out-of-bound returns to take the game with a four point lead.
  The Horns would go down early in the fourth match, but never gave it up, and even caught the game back up to only two points ahead after Cardwell served up an ace, Tillman forced an error return and then Rebels had a bad serve.
  But they would then have the tables turned to have the errors being forced on them, and gave up some errors of their own to allow the Rebels to face the Cougars for the championship, where both teams received invitations to go to the substate.
  Wright led the 'Horns in kills with 18, while Tillman tallied 14 and Nelson nailed down 12. Alysa Billings would lead her team in assists with 35. Cardwell totaled an impressive 38 digs, backed up by Nelson with 28, Tillman with 20 and Laura Peters with 23.
  "This season has meant a lot," Shutt, a senior, said. "We are just so proud of ourselves for just making it to the regionals. This is just unbelievable. Johnson County hasn't been here since our coach has played. We are all very excited about next year. I know Laura has enjoyed and Kristy has too. I am going to come and watch them next year so they had better go farther than what we did."
  What may have been the saddest part of the night was the squad realizing that they have played their last game with their three seniors: Peters, who has also served as team captain; Amy Shutt, who has had to sit out a portion of the season with an injury; and Kristy Chappell.
  "These seniors are special," Cooke said. "I have had them all four years. They are great kids on the court and off the court. They just have great character. It's like they are your kids, but I know that they will do well in life because they have the drive that it takes. I look forward to watching them flourish as young adults."
  The Johnson County girls were disappointed with the loss but are pleased that they have made it as far as they have and are looking forward to next season.
  "I am just honored to be here," Wright said. "It has been about 14 years since Johnson County has been to the regionals. It is just great that we got this far. We just knew that we could get here and I guess that pushed us. We have gotten so much better since the start of the season. I am just sorry to see the seniors go."
  Cooke was extremely pleased with the way the Caldwell, a sophomore, and Breanna Easley, a freshman, who have stepped up to replace the loss of Shutt and junior Ashley Howard, who have been sidelined the last half of the season with injuries. She said that she is looking forward to next season when the girls can bring the varsity experience to the court.
  "Hopefully next year they will have the killing instincts in them that they need to stay in every game," Cooke said. "South Greene is just a good ball club and they don't make very many mistakes."
  The Lady Cougars would go on to beat out the Lady Rebels, 25-23, 25-16, 25-19, and will host Christian Academy of Knoxville this Thursday.
  Anderson County beat out CAK in Region 2 action and will therefore get the homecourt advantage when they play South Greene, also on Thursday.
  "People expected a lot out of us but I don't think they expected this much," Tillman said. "It is a shame that we didn't go further because I know that we had the potential too. I think that we will go all the way to state next year. Our seniors really wanted it. They wanted to go out with something big and out younger girls stepped up big time."