Top-seeded South got all it wanted from No. 4 Sullivan East, eventually prevailing 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 in the first semifinal, prior to second-seeded Elizabethton overcoming a slow start to knock out No. 3 Sullivan Central in the second semifinal, 17-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-19.
The victors, who meet at Sullivan Central at 6 p.m. Thursday to decide the district championship, punched their tickets for next week's Region 1-AA tournament. The district champion will earn a Region 1 home game.
"We don't ever take it (getting to region) for granted," said longtime South coach Wendy Ratliff, a frequent participant of region tourneys. "I promise you that."
JAYNE STUFFS STAT SHEET
Volleyball may be a team game, but it was Abbey Jayne who propelled South.
A senior who will play at King, Jayne finished with 20 kills in just three games.
"She had 20 kills and 10 digs, which is amazing, plus a couple blocks," Ratliff said. "She's just a smart and talented athlete who's a privilege to coach."
The Rebels, who hammered the final nail with a Jayne kill, received 15 assists from setter Makki Compton and 15 digs from defensive-minded Molly Williams.
East was paced statistically by Ashton Adkins, who had 23 assists, 12 digs and five kills. Gracey Byrd and Jenna Hare both had eight kills for the Lady Patriots, while teammate Hayley Grubb produced 15 digs.
REBELS WIN THE BIG POINTS
In a three-game match that saw South win a pair of two-point sets, the Lady Rebels obviously won the points that mattered most in the end.
Both coaches referred to the mental aspect of volleyball.
"I don't know, honestly," 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," East coach Tracy 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."
Elizabethton had to bounce back from a first-set loss, but the Lady Cyclones were clearly up to the task against homestanding Central.
"I think that first set, everything went just perfectly for Central and they played lights out," said 25-year Elizabethton coach Leslee Bradley. "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 cleaning volleyball.
"But it was a great match," concluded Bradley, who received a triple-double from Smith (12 kills, 14 assists, 12 digs), plus 19 digs from Hull and 19 assists from Josie Lyons. "We knew it would be."
It's never easy for a team to see a good season come to an end, especially after opening its final outing with such promise.
But the Cougars (16-12) simply could not keep pace with Elizabethton, which is now headed to region play for the fifth straight season.
Central got 10 kills from Elaina Vaughan, 32 assists from Laiken Hoback and a baker's dozen digs from Parker Hurd, but it was not enough.
"I think the turning point was a lot of errors on our side," said Central coach Logan Kemp. "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."