BY MATT HILL
SPECIAL TO THE SUN
KINGSPORT- The South Greene volleyball team saw the Class AAA state championship banners, trophies and pictures at Sullivan South Saturday, but it propelled them to play their most impressive set of the year.
In a battle of Rebels, for a good portion of the first set South Greene had Sullivan South on the ropes before the girls from Kingsport were able to pull out a 25-22 win.
South went on to win the second set as well in the first match of the day at the Pick-o-Dixie Volleyball Tournament, but the spirited effort by the Greene Rebels didn't go unnoticed by those in attendance.
Sullivan South is by far the most tradition-rich volleyball program in this region, and South Greene standout Alora Ricker knew that coming in.
The Sullivan South Rebels are 23-6 overall and 8-0 in the Blue Ridge Conference, and are coming off a state tournament appearance in 2011. Though the two schools have a drastic difference in student enrollment, the Greene Rebels' tradition in its classification is almost as impressive.
South Greene, which is one of the smaller Class AA schools in the state, has been to the state tournament three straight years and has proven that it can play with the big dogs, or in this case, the big Rebels.
"We knew it would be a tough game, but if we came in and played how we knew we were capable we could beat pretty much anybody," Ricker said. "If we do our fundamentals, we know we can play with anybody in the state."
South Greene led until about the 40th point of the set when Sullivan South tied the contest at 20-20, and then had a little more firepower in the last few points of the set.
In the first set, South Greene was anything but intimidated by Sullivan South, using solid placement of the ball to throw South off its game.
Sullivan South didn't look quite as prepared for South Greene. For the Greene Rebels, they wanted to show they were one of the premier teams in this region.
"We knew coming in we could do it, but when we were up 12-8 we really knew we could," Ricker said. "We just kind of lost our heads and quit doing what we were supposed to do and we lost focus, but this was probably our best set of the year.
"We've played a lot of good matches, but we really came together and played well against Sullivan South."
South Greene head volleyball coach Steven Gregg was not surprised that this team pulled together and did something very memorable that the SGHS community could be proud of.
"I was real proud of them," Gregg said. "Usually we're not a morning team and this morning we showed up to play and played about as good as we could. It seemed like after having the lead 20-19 that things started going downhill for us. I'm proud of their effort.
"We try to get in these good tournaments for the exposure. I think it pays off."
The Greene Rebels didn't back down from the challenge. For a school that is used to success in girls' sports including volleyball, it wasn't a shock to Gregg that South Greene's tradition went toe-to-toe with Sullivan South's.
"I have a veteran team that has been to the state three years in a row," Gregg said. "We would like to go back this year. We've been tested in situations this year before, but we worked hard to tell them what they were coming into."
From one tradition to another, Ricker respects what the Sullivan South Rebels have accomplished over the years and it made it even more special to have this tremendous set.
"They're traditionally a really good program, and they're really hard to beat," she said. "They're one of the top in the state for sure. This will help us a lot, help us grow, help us know what do when we're tired and we'll know what to do if we get to the state tournament.
South Greene advanced to the gold division of the Pick-o-Dixie Tournament, falling to Sullivan East in the quarterfinals.