It didn’t get what it came for, but Henry Clay could hold its head high after falling to Sacred Heart, 3-1, in the KHSAA Volleyball State Tournament finals Sunday afternoon at Valley High School.
Henry Clay, the second public school to ever make it to the final game, became the first such institution to win a set in the finals. Greenwood reached the championship game in 2011 but was swept 2-0 by Assumption, the winningest program in the state.
The Blue Devils fell down 2-0 in the match and trailed the Valkyries, 9-7, in set three before putting together a match-best 7-0 run to take a 14-9 lead. Sacred Heart evened the set at 19-19 before Henry Clay closed on a 6-0 run to take the game. Henry Clay had a 15-12 lead in the fourth set but Sacred Heart used a 13-3 run to prevent a winner-take-all fifth set.
“They brought it, there’s no doubt about it,” Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said. “That’s the best I’ve seen Sacred Heart play, especially at this tournament. They definitely didn’t look like this last night and they brought a good ‘A’ game today.”
Grupe didn’t want to take any credit away from the Valkyries, who closed the season on an 11-game win streak bookended by victories against Henry Clay, but he didn’t think Henry Clay quite brought its own ‘A’ game on Sunday.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” said Grupe. “I’m just so proud of our team cause despite all those mistakes we fought like the dickens and we stayed in those matches and we stole a set from ’em.”
It was only the third finals match in state history to go more than three sets. Assumption defeated Mercy in five sets in 2012 and Mercy defeated Notre Dame in five in 2014.
Assumption has won 19 of the 38 volleyball championships since the tournament started in 1979. Five other private schools — Notre Dame, Mercy, Sacred Heart, St. Henry and Villa Madonna — have combined for the other 19.
The win put Sacred Heart (40-4) in rare company even among that group. It was title No. 2 for the Valkyries, who won their first in 2003, making them the fourth program to win multiple championships.
“It means everything,” said Paige Hammons, an All-American senior who’s played in the U.S. volleyball youth program. “I’m so excited to leave my mark somehow on Sacred Heart and just put something on a banner.”
Hammons, a University of Florida commit who was named tournament MVP, led all players with 19 kills but it was right-side hitter Lauryn Bennett, a freshman, who gave Henry Clay the most fits down the stretch. Bennett ended with 16 kills, second-most of any participant.
Kaitlyn Hord, a Henry Clay junior, said her team tried to adjust its blocking scheme to better account for Bennett’s hands so that its defensive backs could have a better chance at recovering if the Sacred Heart senior got a ball through. Her hits were just too quick, though.
“She’s amazing,” said Hord. “Everything we did, she was like, ‘Eh, I’ll go this way.”
Hord, a Penn State commit, had 13 kills for the Blue Devils (37-7). Senior Hallie Shelton, who’s bound for Western Kentucky, led Henry Clay with 15 kills.
Darby Music will join Shelton at WKU next season. Henry Clay will also lose Emma Yarber (a Western Michigan commit) and Jessica Sunnenberg, who’s uncommitted but plans to play in college, to graduation.
Music and Shelton agreed that their talented senior class is leaving the program in great hands.
“We didn’t make the exact history that we wanted to make but we still made history with Henry Clay volleyball, and that’s what matters,” Shelton said. “I totally trust in this team and in the juniors to be great seniors. I’ve been here since I was in eighth grade and out of every year, this has been by far the best year, easy.”
MVP—Paige Hammons, Sacred Heart
Team—Lauryn Bennett, Sacred Heart; Nadia Dieudonne, Sacred Heart; Kaitlyn Hord, Henry Clay; Darby Music, Henry Clay; Hallie Shelton, Henry Clay; Madison Clements, North Oldham; Brooke Hammons, North Oldham; Kelly O’Neil, Mercy; Isabel Salameh, Mercy; DeLaney Rideout, Apollo; Alexis Rich, West Jessamine; Leigh Grubb, Raceland; Alexa Davis, Greenwood