JOHNSON CITY — When the autumn leaves fall, it’s a good bet Sullivan South’s volleyball team is entertaining thoughts of another trip to Murfreesboro.
The Lady Rebels (44-7) took the first step for their annual pilgrimage to the TSSAA state meet on Thursday night by winning the District 1-AAA tournament championship.
South defeated Science Hill 25-13, 25-18, 25-22 to earn a prime spot in Monday’s Region 1 semifinals at Morristown. Other qualifiers are Science Hill, Morristown West and Seymour.
Science Hill (40-12) was staunchly competitive in the tourney, knocking out Dobyns-Bennett in five sets on Wednesday. The Lady Hilltoppers stayed with South halfway through each game but yielded to the Rebels’ sudden bursts of energy.
“Our goal was to come prepared and go at them hard,’’ South coach Wendy Ratliff said. “We (Big 8 Conference teams) have beat each other to death this week. I judge our success on whether we still like each other, and we do. Science Hill played well. We made fewer mistakes tonight.’’
South had multiple standouts. Tristen Pennington, selected the tourney’s MVP, recorded 11 kills and 13 digs. Rylee Milhorn got 16 kills and nine digs. Hannah Johnson distributed 33 assists and added 12 digs. Hannah Grese had 18 digs. Carlie Phillips charted five kills.
“Tristen, one of our senior leaders, does such a good job on defense,’’ Ratliff said. “She’s become one of the most consistent outside hitters we have.’’
Milhorn, the 2011 district MVP, was also a key figure in the title match this year. She pushed Pennington for top honors.
South, a cohesive unit, seems to have all the skills it takes to claim a state title — serves, digs, passes, blocks and kills. And there are no signs of any selfishness.
Science Hill coach Louise Stallworth, a veteran of the volleyball wars, obviously believes this. “I haven’t seen anybody at the Class AAA level this year that’s any better,’’ she said. “I expect to see South in the state finals.