BLOUNTVILLE — Gate City’s latest collection of volleyball talent may be young.
What the Lady Blue Devils are not, however, is soft.
Gate City erased a 2-1 disadvantage in its season opener Monday night, surviving against border rival Sullivan Central in a five- game marathon inside the Dickie Warren Dome.
Gate City, the reigning VHSL Group A state champion, picked up where it left off last term with the comeback win — 23-25, 25-21, 15-25, 25-21, 15-11.
“We showed some resiliency,” Devils coach Amy Reed said. “We know that since we are a young team, we’ve got to play scrappy and make plays happen.
“We were young tonight and it’s going to take time for these freshmen and sophomores to gain experience. Tonight, in the fourth and fifth games, we started to do what we needed to.”
Gate City responded with some vintage play following its decisive loss in Game 3. As in the opening game, the Devils were plagued by a lack of communication and unforced errors as they stumbled toward an opening-match defeat.
Instead, during the final two games, Gate City linked well, eliminating free balls and spreading the ball around. A more fluid style of play followed — and so with it the win.
“Gate City always has a great team,” Lady Cougars coach Tracy Graybeal said. “They’re such a scrappy team. They hit the ball well, and serve so aggressively.”
The Blue Devils trailed for just three points in the fourth game. Five consecutive points midway through the decisive fifth all but clinched the victory.
Avoiding early deficits in both games proved key for Gate City — the Devils trailed at the midpoint of Games 1 and 3.
“I feel like I taught a lot tonight,” said Reed, who has had to replace three key members of last year’s championship team, including Group A player of the year Chelsea Spivey. “The last couple of years, I was able to sit back but tonight I was all over the place.
“New players playing together have to learn what to expect from each other. It’s kind of a transition.”
Assuming Spivey’s role as setter is junior Callie Sloop, who finished with 41 assists Monday. Ashton Dougherty had 14 kills. Erica Fugate added 10 and Brittany Simpson nine. Ashlee Mustard collected 15 digs for the Blue Devils.
Lindsey Burke, as she has her entire high school career at Gate City, did it all. The senior closed with 13 digs, five kills, 16 service points and four aces.
“I’m glad I’ve got X amount of games with Lindsey,” Reed said. “She does so much for us on the court.”
Like Gate City, Central dealt with its fair share of mental lapses throughout the night. The Lady Cougars were led by Briana Cox’s 17 kills. Kara Mann added 13, Jacqueline Kestner 11 and Savannah Benton eight.
Lauren Blevins was at the center of pretty much everything for Central, finishing with 64 assists. Kenzie Darnell had 24 digs.
“It was opening night and, at times, we played like it was opening night,” Graybeal said. “I think we got tight. You can’t play volleyball if you’re tense.”
“We can’t worry about what our opponent does, we have to take care of us. When we learn to do that, we will be pretty daggone tough.”