KINGSPORT — If the 1980s were good, the subsequent decade was a golden age for Sullivan South volleyball.
The Lady Rebels made every state tournament and brought the championship back to Colonial Heights in 1995 and 1996.
“That was a very exciting time to be coaching,” then-coach Sherry Hooks said. “I could tell at the beginning of the season whether or not we were going to have a good team by if the parents of the kids were sitting together and cheering for one another.
“The parental support that all the kids got throughout the years made the program. It was a sense of community and after games, you really couldn’t tell whose kids were whose because they were all so close and there was a real cohesiveness to all those teams.”
THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’
The new decade was also a testing period for the TSSAA. The governing body went to two classes (large and small in 1989 and 1990, which became Class AAA and A-AA in 1991) and introduced pool play following years of a single classification, single-elimination tournament. South made the semifinals in 1990, finishing 35-9, and 1991, going 50-8.
“The year before we won, we had played Brentwood in a three-hour match and had to walk right back on the court to play another game,” Hooks said of that 1994 season. “We played (White County), which was a team that we’d beaten in the regular season, and they beat us. Us, (White County) and Brentwood all ended up with one loss in pool play and it was determined who would move on by the number of games we played.”
Seniors on the 1994 team that went 47-5 were Tennille Cox, Jana Hamly and Anita Hudson.
RETURN TO GLORY
The Lady Rebels finally reached the mountaintop again.
In the state final on Oct. 28, 1995, South and emerging power Brentwood went to a deciding third set. The Lady Rebels won 7-15, 15-6, 15-11.
“Brentwood beat us in that first game and they got ahead of us in that second game,” Hooks said. “We called a timeout and the girls turned it around after that and we came back to beat them.
“They called themselves the ‘Crazy 8s’ because there were only eight of them and that was a pretty close group,” she added.
The Lady Rebels closed that season 54-2, part of a stellar stretch for the program. From 1995-97, South won 63 consecutive matches — a streak bested only by Kirkman’s 81-match string from 1976-78.
South’s streak is still the third longest in TSSAA history.
“Being a part of the Sullivan South volleyball program was some of my favorite memories. It truly was a special time,” said Laura Hooks Cook, Sherry Hooks’ daughter who is a former South player and now coaches Science Hill. “It wasn’t just about the wins and losses, but the friendships and the families that were so invested and connected in the young ladies’ lives. It was hard to tell whose parents were whose because they were all for each other. We felt like together we could do anything.
“I grew up watching and being around South volleyball and wanted to be like all of those players that I had looked up to as a little girl. I was so fortunate to play for Mom and with such talented teammates during my time there. Then I was lucky to be able to give back to the program that had given me so much by coming back as an assistant coach.”
BACK TO BACK
The 1996 team might have been one of the best in state history to that point before rally scoring, best-of-five and 25-point games were introduced in 2003.
South rolled into the Class AAA tournament in Murfreesboro that year with a 64-1 record — its only loss to Ben Franklin of Louisiana — and didn’t drop a set over the two-day event.
The Lady Rebels again met Brentwood in the final and dominated, winning 15-12, 15-2 to finish 67-1.
South’s back-to-back state championships came on the heels of Bradley Central’s AAA titles in 1993 and 1994.
South returned to the semifinals in 1997, losing to East Ridge in three games and finishing 61-6, and again in 1998. The latter squad finished as state runner-up after falling to Brentwood to close with a 53-1 record. The title was the Lady Bruins’ first after five trips to the state final.
“Leadership inspires leaders and success fosters success. As players, we had a legendary example of leadership in Coach Hooks,” former South player Kelly King Ownby said. “She accepted nothing but our best effort, and that was contagious. As players we supported each other but held each other accountable.
“The players who laid the foundation in the past were important to us and we did not want to let them down. And I hope we were able to inspire younger girls to do the same.”
Volleyball started becoming a more prevalent sport in Northeast Tennessee in the mid-1990s when other area teams began making their marks in the state tournament.
Sullivan East (1993, 1999) and Tennessee High (1997, 1998) both reached the Class AAA tournament twice and Dobyns-Bennett (1990) and Greeneville (1991) each advanced to state once in that span.
South Greene made appearances in the Class A-AA event from 1991-93, and Sullivan North made it in back-to-back years, 1996-97. Daniel Boone advanced to state four straight years, 1995-98.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Hooks’ last season in charge was in 2000, and South missed the state tournament for only the third time under her watch. In 20 seasons, she compiled a record of 909-159 — a remarkable .851 winning percentage.
“We believed in ourselves and in each other, which was a direct reflection on our coach. We were supported and believed in and encouraged,” said Lindsay Hooks Richards, Sherry Hooks’ daughter who played on the 2000 South team and now is a Science Hill assistant coach. “When it came time to compete, we were ready to go to battle. I look back on the years directly connected with the South volleyball program and am flooded with such fond memories.
“So many special girls and their families were such an integral part of the magic that happened while being a part of that program.”
South teams won 18 outright conference regular- season titles — going undefeated 15 times — as well as 16 district tournament crowns and 18 regional tournament titles. Hooks’ record at state was 34-18, including a 14-match winning streaking that spanned the final game of pool play in 1994 to the 1997 semifinals.
“I cannot say enough about how hard those girls worked in all the time that I was there,” Hooks said. “I don’t make the program. The kids do. They’ve carried on that tradition at South and the whole community is always behind them. There is so much history of the 70, 80 young ladies that played and loved the game.
“South has been and always will be my home.”
New millennium, coach and league, but South tradition remains
1990s a decade of dominance for South volleyball