The fourth-ranked Henry Clay volleyball team cleared another hurdle Tuesday on its way to a run at the state title, beating visiting Bryan Station in straight sets (25-10, 25-2, 25-14) in the 42nd District finals. Both teams will play in next week’s 11th Region Tournament at Madison Central.
Junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Hord was dominant on the front line. The Penn State signee and daughter of former UK basketball star Derrick Hord had two kills and three blocks in the first set. She was pulled by Henry Clay head coach Dale Grupe after a vicious kill in the second set gave the Blue Devils a 12-1 lead on their way to a 25-2 win.
“We came into this season with the main goal of winning state and that’s in the back of our mind every single play,” said Hord, who added the Blue Devils have become a tight-knit group over the course of the season. “Our bond together is what makes us so dangerous because at the beginning of the season we didn’t really connect, but as it’s gone on we’ve started to really trust each other.”
The Blue Devils have won four straight matches in straight sets after falling 3-1 to No. 1 Sacred Heart on Oct. 11 and improved to 31-6 on the year. Henry Clay stood toe-to-toe with the Valkyries in every set, losing twice by two points and once by three.
A roster stocked full of Division I talent makes Henry Clay dangerous as well. Four Blue Devils have committed to Division I colleges and Grupe expects several more will earn college scholarships. Along with Hord, seniors Hallie Shelton and Darby Music have signed with Western Kentucky. Senior setter Emma Yarber, who had 14 assists against Station, will play for Western Michigan.
Grupe said Henry Clay has a real shot at becoming the first public school in Kentucky to win a title.
“Our six losses came against teams that are ranked in the top 50 in the nation. Early in the season we weren’t quite there emotionally but we’re getting there right now.”
The future appears bright for Bryan Station, too. This marks just the second time in school history that the Defenders have qualified for a regional and the first since the 42nd District was realigned in 2012.
First-year coach Hilary McKenzie engineered a remarkable turnaround, leading Bryan Station to its first winning record since 2010. The Defenders are 29-8 on the year after going 8-21 last season.
Bryan Station starting setter Rachael Demarcus, a transfer from Lexington Christian, missed Tuesday’s game because of injury but McKenzie says she’ll be ready for the 11th Region Tournament.
McKenzie said that over the course of the year her players have “learned to fight.” She also credits Demarcus with helping turn things around.
“Rachael is an amazing setter. She works really well with our hitters and she’s brought them to a different level. They’ve meshed together so well,” she said. “With her transferring in and with the talent we already had it just all came together this year.”
The 11th Region Tournament kicks off next Monday at Madison Central.
Josh Sullivan; 859-231-3225.