BLUFF CITY — Sullivan East has left little doubt as to which is the team to beat coming out of East Tennessee in this week’s TSSAA Class AA volleyball sectionals.
The Lady Patriots continued their dominant play Tuesday, taking it to Tennessee High 25-22, 25-16, 25-22 to win the Region 1-AA tournament at the Dyer Dome.
The victory, which followed a semifinal sweep of Grainger (25-5, 25-17, 25-20) earlier in the day, allows East to be home again Thursday, when it hosts the Region 2-AA runner-up.
Fourth-year East coach Tracy Graybeal, a 21-year veteran on the sideline, said the late-season rise of her club began when the Lady Patriots won the District 1-AA tournament last week. East, which has beaten THS seven straight games, swept the Vikings in that one, too.
Tennessee High (28-9) had run through the Three Rivers Conference by winning 10 of 10 league matches, including a regular-season sweep of the Lady Patriots (19-8).
The Lady Vikings swept Greeneville 25-17, 25-16, 25-20 in their semifinal Tuesday.
“As a coach, in my opinion, you try your best to sell your system,” Graybeal said. “And at the end of the day when your kids buy in, that’s what wins games. These kids have bought in, and they played remarkably well yet again tonight.”
It doesn’t hurt to have five athletic seniors, four of which started on last year’s basketball team.
“Look at the banners (on the gymnasium wall) ... there’s five up there, five seniors,” Tennessee High coach Mary Johnson said. “Five seniors that lead their team.
“We’re young, and this group has never been in post-play before. And that’s a huge difference when you’ve got a bunch of really good seniors leading your team. East is a great team.”
NELSON LEADS THE WAY
Riley Nelson, one of those East seniors, earned tournament most valuable player honors, but she was just a piece of the puzzle. Still, the sinewy 5-foot-10 outside hitter was outstanding, finishing with a team-high 11 kills of many varieties.
“Something about playing Tennessee High, we know that it takes play like that because they are such a good team,” Nelson said. “So we’ve got to come up with that kind of energy.”
It’s a team game, Graybeal noted.
“She’s great,” the coach said. “Riley’s great, Jenna (Hare) is great, Hannah (Hodge) is great, Avery (Johnson), Jenny (Hillman). But without Hayley Grubb back there passing the ball and without Mia (Hoback) throwing that ball up there. ...
“You know, hitters are awesome, but it’s like a machine. And you’ve got to have every person working to make that machine work. And that’s from the pass to the set to the swing.”
Hare finished with eight kills and Hodge had seven. Hoback delivered 34 assists and Grubb turned up 21 digs. Additionally, Nelson, Hare and Hodge all had 12 digs, while Johnson produced a five-kill, 10-dig outing.
The Lady Vikings, who will travel for their sectional game, received 14 kills from Madison Blair, 14 assists from Madison Curtin and 22 digs from Sydnee Pendland.
Joining Nelson on the all-tournament team were Hare, Grubb and Hodge, as well as Blaire and Pendland. Also on the elite squad were Sophie Meade of Tennessee High, Eden Aiken and Lauren Bailey of Greeneville, and Jordan Judlin and Davie Harbin of Grainger.