BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. – Trailing 12-1 in the third set, Sullivan Central junior Elaina Vaughan crushed a ball to the other side of the net.
That sparked a remarkable comeback, as Sullivan Central rallied to claim a three-set match over rival Tennessee High on Thursday night at the Dickie Warren Dome.
“I feel like whenever we get a hard kill or something like that the energy just spikes up and we all get really excited,” Vaughan said.
An inspired Vaughan, a 6-foot junior with springs in her legs, had 15 kills, along with three blocks and two aces for Sullivan Central, which defeated the Vikings 26-24, 25-9, 25-22.
“We really wanted to beat them today,” Vaughan said.
Tennessee High (12-5) came in having won eight in a row, including the Silver Division championship at the Choo Choo Classic last weekend in Chattanooga.
The Cougars (6-2) didn’t care.
“We had a tough match on Tuesday night,” said Sullivan Central head coach Logan Kemp, whose Cougars dropped a five-set match to Elizabethton, finishing with a 17-15 loss in the final set. “We kind of had some time to talk about that yesterday in practice.
“It was kind of a reset. A heartbreaker on Tuesday in our conference match and then being able to go up against a great team like Tennessee High that had a good streak going, we were just ready to meet the challenge.”
Tennessee High fell behind in the opening set before Patrick Henry transfer Jamayia Honaker went on a tear with four straight kills. She finished the match with 12 kills, but was largely negated after the first set by the Cougars.
“I think it was kind of being able to adjust our defense a little bit and then being able to put more offensive pressure that didn’t allow them to get into a rhythm with her,” Kemp said.
Sullivan Central rallied back, taking a 22-19 lead before the Vikings tied it at 24. The Cougars got the final two points on kills by Taylor Wilson – who had 14 kills and five digs – and the set-winner from Vaughan, who explained how that set was won.
“I feel like just the grit and just the will to want to win helped us push and get the final points in,” she said.
Keyed by the serving of Vaughan, the Cougars took control of the second set, building a 9-2 lead, and never allowing the Vikings to trim the margin to less than seven to take a 2-0 set lead.
It was all Tennessee High early in the third set, with the Vikings building that 12-1 lead.
“We got up 2-0 fast. I think we probably got a little too comfortable and I told them it was going to be a fight. I don’t know if they took me serious or not,” Kemp said. “We got down early and I think we let some of the points get into our heads, but these girls do a great job of digging themselves out of holes they put themselves into and they don’t quit.
“They have done a real good job over the last few years of doing that. We have got good senior leadership so it is great to see them be able to pull out something like that.”
Vaughan’s kill of a Tennessee High volley started the rally, with the Cougars trimming the margin down, eventually tying the score at 21-21.
She had plenty of help, including stellar play from Wilson, Cassidi Cotter (8 kills, 5 blocks), Parker Hurd (14 digs), Laiken Hoback (35 assists, 8 digs) and Chloe Ragan (4 kills, 4 digs, 2 aces), all of whom were able to put the loss from Tuesday far into the past.
“We played a really good game that night, but it just didn’t work out in the end,” Vaughan said.
It did on this night, as Sullivan Central got the final three points of the match, on a kill by Wilson, a combined block from Ragan and Cotter and an unforced error to end it, giving the Cougars a big win to build on.
“I feel like it will just push us forward and make us grow as a team and we will keep going,” Vaughan said.
Tennessee High, which will visit Virginia High on Monday, received six kills and four blocks from Kenzie Nickels and five kills and 10 digs from Kloey Tester.
Expect Vaughan to be roaming around the net on Tuesday when Sullivan East visits the Cougars for a Northeastern Conference match.
“It is exhilarating, I love it,” she said. “It is stress relief. It is so awesome.”