LOUISVILLE — Make no mistake, the Henry Clay girls' volleyball team feels good about its chances in this weekend's state tournament.
And why shouldn't it? The Blue Devils have been to state six times in the past eight seasons, and Coach Dale Grupe has made 13 trips in his 20 years on the Henry Clay sidelines.
But the Blue Devils didn't come in overconfident in Friday's opening-round matchup with Allen Central, taking care of the Lady Rebels in three sets. Henry Clay advances to Saturday's 1 p.m. quarterfinal at Valley High School against Logan County, a winner in three sets over Raceland on Friday.
"They really came out focused today," Grupe said. "We've been around enough to know not to take anyone lightly."
Henry Clay (31-5) also had to overcome some early adversity, as senior outside hitter Elle Barnett went down with a sprained ankle early in the first set and did not return.
Freshman Emma Yarber stepped in for Barnett and the Blue Devils didn't miss a beat.
"I think we were in shock when we lost our senior leader, but Emma stepped in and did an awesome job," Grupe said.
Yarber admitted to early butterflies but credited junior Ca'Layci Coffey with calming her down.
"When Elle went down, all I was thinking was, "Is it going to be me? Am I going to go in? Do I even want to go in?" she said. "But I decided, 'Yeah I want to go in and kick some butt. Once I got in, I felt like a deer in headlights, but Ca'Layci, who's like a big sister to me, just kept saying, 'It's OK, just play the next play."
Another freshman, Hallie Shelton, led the Blue Devils in kills with 12, while Coffey added 10.
After Henry Clay cruised in the first two sets by scores of 25-11 and 25-14, Allen Central made the Blue Devils sweat a little in the third when Katie Kendrick tied it at 24. But Sierra Gray and Coffey responded with kills to close out the Lady Rebels, 26-24.
Henry Clay is aware of the possibility of a much-anticipated semifinal showdown with third-ranked Notre Dame, but the Blue Devils also know they have to take care of business in the quarterfinal first. Grupe said he expects Barnett to be ready to go against Logan County.
And if the showdown with Notre Dame does pan out, the Blue Devils say they're ready.
"Our goal is to go all the way," Grupe said. "We've played in a lot a big out-of-state tournaments against a lot of top competition. Whether it's Notre Dame, Mercy, Assumption, whoever, we will be ready to go."
"I wouldn't say we're cocky, but we are confident," said junior outside hitter Olivia Dixon. "We always feel like we will come together as a team. When Elle went down, a lot of people might have said, 'How are you going to make up for that loss? But we've had injuries all year, and we've got a lot of depth. When one goes down, we can count on someone else to come in and play hard and play well."
At Valley High School in Louisville
10 a.m. — Mercy vs. Oldham Co.
11:30 a.m. — Assumption vs. McCracken Co.
1 p.m. — Logan Co. vs. Henry Clay
2:30 p.m. — Campbell Co./Notre Dame winner vs. Green Co.
Matches at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
Championship match at 2 p.m.