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Lady Dragons give tough battle to Knox West before ‘the balloon bursts’

  • Clinton High School’s Riley Owens gets the block on a would-be West High spike Wednesday night at the Donnie Dome. - Ken Leinart

  • Clinton’s Zavie Ford prepares to make the stop on a West High serve Wednesday night at the Donnie Dome. - Ken Leinart

The 2022 high school volleyball regular season is done and dusted, and the Clinton Lady Dragons will now turn their attention to the District 3-AAA tournament.

The two-day single-elimination tournament will be contested Wednesday and Thursday at Karns High School. Clinton will be the No. 3 seed and will play sixth-seeded Halls at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Lady Dragons (22-12 overall, 10-4 in the district) closed out the regular season on Wednesday, Sept. 28, with a 25-20, 25-22, 25-12 loss to West High at CHS’s Don W. Lockard Gymnasium.

Clinton had leads in all three sets and battled against the Lady Rebels (25-7, 13-1), who are the tournament’s balloon top seed.

“In the last set, the balloon burst and we showed a lack of maturity,” Lady Dragons’ second-year head coach Lorri Johnson said. “I’m not saying that my girls are immature but we have a lack of maturity on the court. We’re extremely young.

“Nobody wanted to step up. Nobody wanted the ball but we have a week to figure it out.

Clinton opened a 7-3 lead in the first set and held a 17-16 advantage before the Lady Rebels scored on a side-out before Rylie Valdez served up two consecutive points to give West an 18-16 lead. The Lady Dragons rallied back to knot the set, 20-20, before the Lady Rebels scored five straight points, four served up by Ryn Gaertner. She had an ace on her service run for West, which claimed the No. 1 seed in the district tournament.

Lady Rebels’ coach Jessica Lee said she knew her team would face a battle from the Lady Dragons.

And West got exactly what Lee figured.

“Nothing is easy in our district. Campbell County is good, Oak Ridge is good. Karns is good and Clinton is good,” Lee said. “We knew this was going to be tough. Our girls are tired. This is our fourth match this week.

The Lady Rebels, however, knew that a win at Clinton would net them the top seed in the postseason tournament.

“We’ve had a tough week,” Lee said. “We beat Campbell County Monday and we lost against Anderson County and Jefferson County Tuesday and tonight, we came out flat.

“I told them that we had to take care of business because we got a gift from Karns when they beat Oak Ridge Monday in three,” Lee said.

In the second set, the Lady Dragons led 17-16 and 22-20 before West got another key service run from Valdez and scored four points after a side-out.

In the third set, Clinton took a 1-0 lead on an ace by freshman Lanee Carmichael before the Lady Rebels opened a 16-4 lead before cruising to victory on the Lady Dragons’ senior night when Clinton honored Brooklynn Blissard and Oriana Altum.

Ellie Murrell led Clinton’s attack as she had eight kills and two blocks. She also had two assists.

Riley Owens added three kills, three aces and eight digs. Setter Josie Moody had 15 assists.

District tournament seedings: West is the top seed, followed by Oak Ridge, Clinton, Karns, Campbell County, Halls, Knoxville Central and Powell.