North's Makenna Smith digging up a Lady Patriots spike.
KINGSPORT — Sullivan South’s much-heralded arrival in the Three Rivers Conference has created some stir in Northeast Tennessee volleyball circles.
But it hasn’t exactly taken the target off the back of Sullivan East.
The defending District 1-AA champions got some early pushback at Sullivan North on Tuesday night en route to opening the conference slate with a 25-22, 25-16, 25-13 win over the Lady Golden Raiders.
“For the most part we played pretty well. We gave them a few runs that I wish we hadn’t. But I felt like we came out and played our game,” said Lady Patriots coach Julie Rafalowski. “We tried to dictate the pace tonight. We won and it’s a great feeling to be 1-0.”
In the first game, North fought its way back to 23-22 after trailing by 10 thanks to surges from outside hitters Hannah Dingus and Makenna Smith, a service ace from Shayla Fortner and a clutch kill from Victoria Cradic.
But coach Debby Booher, who led the Lady Golden Raiders to the Region 1-AA tournament last season, wasn’t in a mood to bask in the afterglow of moral victories.
“We are peaks and valleys. We are either up or down, there is no middle ground. There is so much inexperience on the floor,” said Booher, who got North to the brink of 20 wins in 2012.
“I’ve been looking for a leader and I’m still looking. I have two decent hitters. But our passing is just ... bad. And I’m still looking for back row players,” she said.
East lost some guns from last season but is still pretty loaded.
Returning all-region players Haley Roe and Micaela Chaffin contributed to the victory. Roe lofted 27 assists. Chaffin had only four kills but was set for only four attacks — hitting a hyper-efficient 100 percent. Veteran libero Kendall Ivester had 11 digs and hitter Tori James had seven kills.
In addition to the familiar faces, East boasted an impressive debutante. Freshman outside hitter Hannah Price unloaded for 12 kills — including a couple of wickedly effective back-row blasts. She also toed the line for 19 service points, 11 of which were aces.
“I think they struggled with her type of serve a little bit. There are some nights that Micaela is our strongest server or Kendall is my strongest server,” Rafalowski said. “It depends on the type of team we’re playing and what they struggle with the most.”
On the defensive side of the score sheet, Price came up with eight digs.
“(Price) and our other outside hitters are really filling in those positions we lost last year. They are really doing a great job jumping in and playing,” Rafalowski said.
Smith had 11 kills to lead the attack for North (3-6, 0-1). Dingus pounded out eight kills and Taylor Breeding sorted out 22 assists.
“Our goal is to be ready by the district tournament. We knew we weren’t going to be ready early,” said Booher, who counts resurgent Elizabethton as yet another challenge to getting back to the region this season.
“We hope to peak at the district tournament. That’s been our goal since Day 1 of practice. We knew it was going to take us all season to get there,” she said.