ROCKVALE, Tenn. – The run is over for Sullivan East.
The Patriots fell to Anderson County in four sets, 21-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18 in the TSSAA Class AA state volleyball tournament on Thursday afternoon at Rockvale High School near Murfreesboro.
“As a coach, when you start [the season], you know your goal is where we are.” Sullivan East head coach Tracy Graybeal. “This is all the running, the practice, the time, the effort. This is what you’ve worked for, and you’re here now.”
With a few games each under their belt, it was clear that both of these teams were getting comfortable with the glitz and glamour of the state tournament, as the energy was fast and loose from the opening whistle.
It remained tied through the first nine points, with Sullivan East playing catchup and matching Anderson County point by point. With the score tied at 9-9, the Mavericks gained momentum, landing six points in a row and forcing a Sullivan East timeout.
“We came out the first game, and it was back and forth,” Graybeal said. “Then they got a little lead, and then we really dug deep and I thought, ‘Ok, we got this’ and we came out and got the win in the first set.”
After the timeout, Sullivan East was locked in, steadily chopping at the lead and bringing it to within one at 21-20. The Patriots then unleashed, landing five points in a row, with Avery Johnson and Mia Hoback shutting down the entire right half of the court on defense, and sealing the opening game at 25-21.
Sullivan East began the second game by taking a 6-2 lead, with seniors Riley Nelson and Hayley Grubb each having strong defensive stops at the net. In addition, Hoback set up Hannah Hodge for a strong right-to-left kill that brought the crowd to their feet.
Anderson County quickly countered by going on a remarkable 16-2 run of their own.
Sullivan East could have been a little fatigued, having played a late five-set match with Lawrence County to avoid elimination on Wednesday night.
“We had a pretty quick turnaround, we played at seven o’clock last night and had a five-set [match], and then had to turn around and play this morning,” Graybeal said. “Physically and mentally that’s not always easy.”
Even after multiple timeouts, Sullivan East never could quite find a rhythm, as mental errors and aggressive defense by the Mavericks held them off. A soft Jenna Hare touch-shot brought the lead to within five at 13-8, but that was the closest score the rest of the game, as the Patriots dropped the game 25-16.
Anderson County opened the third frame with a quick 2-0 lead, both shots being strong finishes at the net. Sullivan East fought back to tie it 3-3, with Hoback setting up Nelson with a kill to tie the match. From then on, it was all Mavericks as their defense became impossible to find space against, stopping everything around the net, and forcing the ball towards the boundaries where the Patriots struggled to place their shots.
“We had a hard time putting the ball down on them,” Graybeal said, “and they did a good job at hitting our struggle areas.”
Anderson County went on a blistering run to bring their lead to 15-5, only being stopped by a clever play by Johnson to let a soaring ball land inches out of bounds. Everything went the way of Mavericks from that point, winning the frame 25-18.
Sullivan East gave it everything they had in the fourth game, but Anderson County couldn’t make a mistake, quickly jumping to a 9-3 lead to force a timeout. With the Mavericks dominating at the net, the Patriots had to look for creative ways to get on the board. Johnson got a point by letting a shot land near the boundary, where it fell inches out of bounds, putting Sullivan East on the board to make it 15-6. Hoback followed by pushing a soft roll-shot with expert touch that sailed just over the head of an Anderson County defender.
In the closing moments, the Patriots kept their effort level as high as possible, and Nelson stuffed a shot at the net to briefly keep their season alive. Anderson County ended up getting two quick points to close out the game, as well as seal the match 25-18.
The loss put an end to what has been a historic season for the Patriots, who overcame adversity throughout the postseason, notching multiple victories with their backs against the wall, finishing their season with a 22-9 record.
That included claiming the District 1-AA, Region 1-AA and Section 1-AA tournament titles along the way.
“You know, I feel incredibly blessed. That’s a very good team that we just played,” said Graybeal, while fighting back tears after the match. “Obviously you never want to lose, but I’m also proud of what this group of girls has accomplished.”
Grubb, a defensive leader and libero for the Patriots, was one of five seniors who played their final match for the Patriots. She will certainly remember the time spent with her teammates and coaches on and off the volleyball court.
“Mostly the fact that we all bonded, and we became sisters to each other and just the hustle and hard work that we put together to get this far is just incredible,” Grubb said.
“And all the funny inside jokes that we made about our coaches and each other. I’m very happy where we are.”