Sullivan Central Volleyball Hoback

Sullivan Central's Laiken Hoback returns a shot during a match earlier this season. The Cougars, and Sullivan East, took season ending losses on Tuesday in the District 1-AA semifinals. 

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn.  There is often a fine line between winning and losing, much to the dismay of the Sullivan East and Sullivan Central volleyball teams.

The two county rivals both saw their 2019 seasons end in Tuesday’s semifinal play of the District 1-AA tournament at the Dickie Warren Dome, where top-seeded Sullivan South beat East 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 before second-seeded Elizabethton took out homestanding Central 17-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-19.

It’s never easy to call it a season.

“Everybody’s season ends at some point,” East coach Tracy Graybeal said.

While East and Central both hang it up for the year, South and Elizabethton each advance to next week’s Region 1-AA tournament.

The Rebels and Cyclones meet at Sullivan Central on Thursday night to decide the district championship. The winner will host a first-round Region 1 game.

“Getting to region is tough every time, but rewarding,” said 25-year Elizabethton coach Leslee Bradley, who returns to region play for a fifth straight season.

After winning the first set against Elizabethton, Central no doubt had visions of extending its campaign. But the Cougars could not finish what they started.

Behind the leadership of setter Morgan Smith and libero Deanna Hull, the Cyclones reversed the trend and Central could not recover.

“I think that first set, everything went just perfectly for Central and they played lights out,” Bradley said. “But I’ve got a very intelligent team and we were able to settle down and make adjustments.

“Morgan Smith sort of keeps us focused out there and Deanna Hull does that for us as well. Once we adjusted to what Central was trying to do, we were able to start playing cleaner volleyball.”

The versatile Smith finished the evening with 12 kills, 14 assists and 12 digs.

Central coach Logan Kemp thought the Cougars became sloppy.

“I think the turning point was a lot of errors on our side,” Kemp reasoned. “We had 10 missed serves and around 89 unforced errors, and when you’re having more than 20 errors in a set it’s hard to come back from.

“But one thing I told the girls was not to focus on the woulda, shoulda, couldas, because that’s just one of those things that can eat at you. Instead, they should be proud of how hard they fought and the good season they had.”

Elaina Vaughan had 10 kills to pace third-seeded Central, which received 32 assists from Laiken Hoback and 13 digs from Parker Hurd.

Meanwhile, in the three-game first semifinal that saw South win a pair of two-point sets, the Rebels claimed the points that seemed to matter most.

Both coaches referred to the mental aspect of volleyball.

“I don’t know, honestly,” South veteran coach Wendy Moody Ratliff said. “Maybe we’ve become a little bit mentally tough and evolved into a team that’s sorta come together and jelled.”

Conversely, East’s youthful roster wasn’t always able to produce when needed.

“I think that sometimes there’s a mental tenacity that comes with being a veteran team,” Graybeal said. “I’ve said all year that we’ve struggled a bit with our tenacity and a lot of that is youth, although I thought some of my freshmen and sophomores played awfully well tonight.”

South was led by the 20-kill, 10-dig game of senior Abbey Jayne.

East was paced by Ashton Adkins and her 23 assists, 12 digs and five kills.

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