News-Star: Sports

South Johnston answers the challenge, sweeps Cleveland

After his volleyball team fell behind 7-1 in its match with visiting Cleveland, South Johnston coach Matthew Adams called a timeout and challenged the Trojans to play harder.

South Johnston took the challenge and ran with it.

The Trojans (9-3, 3-1 Two Rivers 3A Conference) rallied to win the first game, 25-22, and went on to a 3-0 sweep of Cleveland (9-3, 2-2) on Thursday night.

“We played Triton last week, one of the other top teams in our conference, and we just didn’t compete and lost 3-0,” Adams said. “I saw some of the stuff early on (against Cleveland) that we were doing last week against Triton and I just said, ‘None of that. No.’

“I challenged a couple of girls personally about not giving enough effort, just sticking an arm out rather than moving their feet and going for a ball. They responded. I’m super proud of their effort. To beat them 3-0 is a huge win for us.”

The Trojans turned it up several notches after the early timeout, playing tenacious defense and spreading the offense around in a strong attack at the net.

Senior tri-captain Madison Byrd led the Trojans with 12 kills. Junior Emma Blackman had 11 kills and three blocks. Junior Lilly Allen added six kills and sophomore Selena Flores and junior Makaylah Tart had three kills each.

“We did start off a little slow,” Byrd said. “But we got the momentum and kept going. We talked about putting our words into action. Tonight, we did that.”

In the first set, the Trojans dug out of the 7-1 hole, tying the score at 15-15 and taking their first lead of the match at 16-15. The score was tied eight times before South Johnston closed with four straight points to win the opener.

The second set was tight early, with the teams trading points. The score was tied at 7-7, the sixth tie of the set, when South Johnston took charge. The Trojans scored three straight points – two on kills by Byrd – and gradually built an 18-11 advantage.

Cleveland refused to let it get away, however, pulling within 22-20.

South Johnston closed it out with three straight points, the game winner coming on a kill by Tart for a 25-20 victory.

South Johnston took charge in the third set, going up 20-13. Cleveland again came back – closing the gap to 23-20. But South Johnston secured the sweep with a 25-21 victory.

The Trojans were all over the court, diving for returns, chasing down wide passes and digging out Cleveland kill attempts. And when the South Johnston sets were on target, the kills were too.

“It was a total team effort,” Adams said. “I talked in the timeouts about playing together. We talked a lot about it in our pregame stuff and yesterday at practice too. Just that everybody was going to have to do the best they could at their particular job to beat a good team like Cleveland. And we did it.”

For the Rams, the strong start turned into disappointment.

“That was our worst match of the year,” Cleveland coach Shelley Johnston said. “It’s just a huge disappointment. This is something the girls need to learn from.

“We didn’t have a great practice yesterday. I just told them at the end, ‘You practice like you play.’”

Hannah Neville led Cleveland with 10 kills, Marina Roe and Mallory Macon had six each and Wallie Driggers added five.

The Rams battled in each set, but the day belonged to South Johnston.

“Defensively, I would say tonight was our best game (of the season),” Adams said. “We kept balls alive that we don’t normally keep alive. It was just heart and extra determination to win.”

And an early challenge from Adams that jump-started the Trojans.