Morgan Johnson bumps the ball as Emily Gaines looks on.

BARBOURVILLE—There wasn’t a lot of drama in the 49th District volleyball tournament. The South Laurel Lady Cardinals did what they were supposed to do in sweeping both games in straight sets.

“They did a great job. I am so very proud of them,” South Laurel coach Kaye Smith said.

The Lady Cardinals defeated Corbin 25-21 and 25-10 in the championship game Thursday at Knox Central. The tournament almost seemed a formality to a South Laurel team that lost only four times during the regular season. None of those losses came to teams in their district or region. The Lady Cardinals can now prepare for the 13th Region Tournament next week at North Laurel and on getting back to the state tournament.

“I’ve been telling these girls since the beginning of the year, we’re working toward going to the state tournament,” Smith said. “It’s just a different atmosphere up there, a different level.”

Smith has led South Laurel to three trips to the state tournament, although they missed last year with a loss to Southwestern in the region tournament.

“We’re a little hungry to go again,” Smith said.

The Lady Cardinals looked hungry in the opening set when they opened a quick 9-2 lead. Corbin battled around the net to cut the lead to 10-7. That led to a South Laurel timeout.

“They relaxed a little bit I think,” Smiths said. “You know Corbin has a good team, but I knew once we could get ahead enough that it might stay in their mind. It’s a mind game sometimes.”

The Lady Cardinals scored six straight points after the timeout and kept on cruising to a 22-11 lead. Then it got a little sloppy, including a net serve and miscommunication on a return. Although unable to put together back-to-back points the rest of the set, the Lady Cardinals lead held.

Corbin stayed close early in the second set. The two teams traded points with South Laurel holding a 9-8 lead when Emily Gaines stepped up to serve. Behind four aces from Gaines, the Lady Cardinals scored eight straight points.

“She does a good job. When you’ve got a kid that can step up and do that it really helps,” Smith said.

Beginning with Gaines serves, South Laurel outscored Corbin 16-1 to close out the set.

“We’re battling sickness and had two back that had the flu. I was hesitant about playing them, but we watched them in warm-ups and they seemed strong,” Smith said. “We decided to go with the ones that had played the entire year.”

And this is where South Laurel expected to be the entire year, adding another trophy to the case.

“I knew we had a good little team to begin with, but I knew all along we would have some ups and downs,” Smith said. “They hung in there and played hard and practiced hard. It paid off for them tonight and we hope in the region we can come out on top too.”

Erika Burchett earned Most Valuable Player for the tournament. She had 11 kills and five blocks in the final game. Morgan Johnson, Shelley Nunley, Breanna Allen and Gaines also made the all-tournament team. Johnson’s line for the championship included five kills, two blocks and a team-high 11 assists. Nunley finished the night with seven digs and Allen with five assists.

Mitch Howard can be reached at

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