KINGSPORT — Two days after losing a high-profile Big 8 Conference volleyball match to Dobyns-Bennett, Sullivan South bounced back in a big way.
The Lady Rebels steamrolled through their own tournament, capping a two-day Pick-O-Dixie title run with a 25-19, 25-12 sweep of Morristown West in the championship match on Saturday night.
South coach Wendy Ratliff said she was impressed by the resiliency of her young team.
“I think Thursday night was a hard night for us and it was just a little bit scary for me that we would bring that with us,” she said. “I learned that they could wipe the slate clean and show up today and play pretty awesomely. We just have a lot of good leadership.”
The Lady Rebels won their pool and eventually beat Sullivan Central in the semifinals to secure a spot in the title match.
While South’s players were catching their breath, West was locked in a fierce semifinal matchup against Maryville. The Lady Trojans eventually came from behind to win in three games, but they burned a lot of energy in the process.
“We played back-to-back-to-back and were on the ropes a little bit,” West coach Heather Kelley said. “I think South had a chance to sit. We just played hard with a lot of emotion all day long, and I think it took a toll there towards the end of the day.”
South led from the outset in the Game 1 of the championship match. West closed to within a point as South held a 20-19 advantage late in the first game, but the Lady Rebels scored the final five points to grab a 1-0 lead.
Ratliff said winning that first game was huge in terms of snapping any momentum the Lady Trojans may have carried over from their semifinal win, but it also allowed her youthful team to keep playing loose.
“For my team, being young, it’s important to get the first game period,” she said. “Once we get one under us, they kind of relax and have a little bit of fun.”
South jumped up 5-0 in the second game and cruised from there. After trailing 7-2, West was never able to get any closer than five points.
Krista Reed hammered home nine kills for South while Kim Johnson had six kills and Taylor Fink added 16 assists to go along with five kills in the title match.
Ratliff said the experience of winning a tournament was especially valuable to the younger players on her roster.
“They get a little taste of it,” she said. “They have the confidence and see that we can win and I think that goes a long way mentally for them.”
Despite settling for a runner-up finish, Kelley said her players grew as a team over the two-day tournament. She pointed to getting out of pool play and advancing past the first round as steps in the right direction.
“We’re just trying to get over some steppingstones,” Kelley said. “These tournaments are great for us — we’ve learned that we can compete with anybody when we’re playing our game and doing all that we’re supposed to.”