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Surprising Johnson squad falls in state tourney
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Johnson High’s Lejavian Ratliff, right, blocks a shot by Northwest Whitfield’s Sarah Thomas during their class AAAA state tournament first round match at the Johnson High gymnasium Wednesday evening.

Johnson’s season ended Wednesday — one win short of the Lady Knights’ final goal — as visiting Northwest Whitfield knocked off the Lady Knights, 25-15, 29-27, 25-14 with an impressive showing in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament.

“We accomplished two of our three goals,” Johnson coach Deb Eidson said. “The only one we didn’t accomplish was to win at least one match at state.”

Northwest Whitfield prevented that with a combination of well-struck serves, strong play at the net and excellent court coverage. The Lady Bruins came out fast, scoring the first four points of the first game and rarely trailed the rest of the match.

They await the winner of Columbus and Locust Grove in the second round next week.

“Obviously they come from a strong region,” Eidson said of the Lady Bruins, who entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Area 7-AAAA. “Our girls were just nervous. They were wound so tight that whole first game.”

Johnson tied the game at five, but for each Lady Knight run, Northwest Whitfield had an answer. The Lady Bruins reeled off three straight points and pulled away from there en route to a 25-15 win that set the tone for the match.

“It really shows our improvement over the course of the year,” Northwest Whitfield coach Jennifer Quinn said. “We really stepped up on defense, and our offense is working right now.”

The Lady Bruins were in eighth place in the area early in the season, Quinn said, before climbing to fifth at the end of the regular season and claiming fourth place and a playoff bid in the area tournament.

They were led Tuesday by a tall and talented group at the net. Sara Thomas and Mary Kate Allen made life difficult for the Lady Knights with 11 kills each, while Lis Trewett added 35 assists and libero Shelby Thomas steadied the team from the back and finished with five digs.

Despite the three-game sweep, the match wasn’t without its dramatic moments. Johnson rallied multiple times during an intense second game and briefly had a chance to win after taking a 25-24 lead. But Northwest Whitfield again answered the challenge, regained control, and took the game, 29-27.

“I knew we had to win that second game,” Eidson said. “That one really took the wind out of our sails.”

The Lady Knights were led by Kelly Chance (seven assists, three digs), Lejavian Ratliff (six kills) and Lindsey Anderson (six digs).

Even though Johnson will return to the court next season still in search of its first playoff win since 2003, Eidson had nothing but positive things to say about the Lady Knights team that brought home the first area championship of her eight-year tenure.

“This group is a special group,” Eidson said. “One thing they always did was put God first, no matter what. You don’t always get that. They’ve been a blessing to me.”

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