Lady Cyclones hold their own against state champs at South

Published 11:21 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2015

By Matt Hill


KINGSPORT — Leslee Bradley had the biggest smile of anybody in the Sullivan South gymnasium Tuesday night, and even though Elizabethton did not get its first-ever win over Sullivan South, the gap was become more narrow than in the over 20 seasons Bradley has been coaching the Lady Cyclones.

After a difficult time in games one and two, the Lady Cyclones turned up the energy, played more under control and then gave the four-time state champion Lady Rebels a major scare before South won 25-11, 25-12, 23-25, 25-19.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Throwing the first two games out of the equation, games three and four showed that Elizabethton is narrowing the gap between the powers in the conference and more specifically Sullivan South.

During the early years of Bradley’s reign at Elizabethton, the Lady Cyclones were often outmatched. Back in the days when they had the side out scoring system instead today’s rally-point system, it was not uncommon to see 15-0, 15-0 matches with Sullivan South.

South is still the benchmark in this region, but Elizabethton’s program finally is able to compete with the Lady Rebels. And yes, Bradley was beginning to think Tuesday night was going to be the night.

“I thought we were going to do it,” she said. “We really finished that match going toe to toe with them. Just a few more plays in our favor, and it could have been a more fun night than it already was for us. It’s good to take a set from South. It is a step in the right direction for our program and gives us confidence to know we can play good volleyball and tonight we went toe to toe with South.”

The story looked quite different after the second game and with Bradley being more of quiet person, she called in someone else to do the job of getting them going.

It was a player who did not even play in the match, but she might have ended up being the MVP on this night.

“We have a senior on the team in Taylor Lowe who I have made our communication cop,” said Bradley. “She actually lit into them for me and said, ‘You all aren’t playing.’ The girls respect her opinion a lot. She doesn’t play hardly at all. She didn’t join the volleyball team until her junior year. She doesn’t get on the court much, but she is such an inspiration to the team in how hard she works and she had some words with them between games. Taylor helped us turn things around.”

The team did get a fire under them, and in games three and four, the Lady Cyclones put on an amazing defensive show as they were able to make clean passes on hard balls and that set things up for Madyson Smith and Rachel Robinson to set up ball for the hitters.

It was a total team effort and the improved passing made all the difference.

“We have a great defense, and we have great trust in our back row,” Bradley said. “We are not afraid of any hitter, and I was really proud of how controlled we were.”

Smith had nine kills and seven assists, Chloe Hambrick had five kills, Sarah Slagle had five kills, Shelby Whitehead had 15 digs, Sydney Goodsell had 13 digs and Robinson had three aces for the Lady Cyclones.

Tuesday night may have been the greatest night in Elizabethton volleyball history. A program that has been overshadowed by some of the other girls’ sports programs at EHS has made a name for itself, and now it seems like that elusive win over the queen of Northeast Tennessee volleyball is going to come sooner than later.

The Lady Cyclones now just have to finish the deal.

“Until it happens, you have to wonder, what can we change or do better, but we are definitely making strides,” Bradley said. “We have to start with the energy high. We weren’t ready to match South’s intensity at the start of the match, that came later. We have to match that intensity.”

Elizabethton travels to second-place Sullivan East Thursday.