The first regular-season, home sporting event in Frederick Douglass history did not end in favor of the hosts on Monday night, but it laid the groundwork for what could be a special rivalry for years to come.
Henry Clay defeated Douglass, 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-19), but the newcomers held multiple leads throughout the evening and at times looked like the more aggressive team in their battle with the No. 4 Blue Devils.
The match also pitted father — longtime Henry Clay head coach Dale Grupe — against daughter — Douglass head coach Erin Grupe — for the first time outside of a club volleyball setting. This is Erin’s first step as a high school head coach; Dale is in his 20th season leading the Blue Devils and 24th year overall.
Proceeds from the matchup were donated to breast cancer research. Kathy Grupe, Dale’s wife and Erin’s mother, died last October of the disease. Pink signage with the phrase “We Fight Together!” was posted in the gymnasium and a memorial with images and messages hung behind the teams’ benches. Plans are for a “Play for the Cure” game to be contested between both programs annually.
“It was a special night, for sure,” Dale said. “We’re still less than a year from everything so this was definitely a little tough, but at the same time pretty touching that it could be us coaching against each other. Both groups of families did an amazing job of working together, and they put on a heck of a show tonight. ... I don’t want to take anything away from the game, but the event itself was first class.”
Douglass has only one player, sophomore Sarah Mueller, who’s played varsity minutes at the high school level (she was previously at Tates Creek). A couple of players who’ve played other sports came out for volleyball for the first time, Erin said.
“It’s exciting to see,” said freshman libero Maggie Harrison. “We were nothing at the beginning of August and now we’re going 19-25 with No. 4 in the state.”
Erin thought her team was a little timid in the early going. She made an adjustment with Harrison to put her in a better position to dig; from that point she helped extend several volleys.
“I think she realized she can dig people in the city, even as a freshman,” Erin said. “I don’t think a lot of other schools have a freshman libero, and that’s an awesome achievement.”
Harrison was standing nearby and started giggling. Erin turned to her and said, “You dug D-1 hitters out there, that’s awesome. Be proud.”
“Now that you say D-1 commitments, I kinda smile a little bit,” Harrison said with a laugh.
“Yea, you should, you should be excited,” Erin said. “That’s how you get better.”
A sense of unity pervaded the entire evening. Balloons with both school’s colors dotted the sidewalk leading up to the entrance, and a sign with both mascot images that read “Stronger Together” hung in the doorway.
Animosity towards Douglass entering the Fayette County sports scene was inevitable because of its facilities and ability to bring in players who previously played for other teams around the city. One need not look too hard on Twitter to find trash talk getting slung every direction.
The Douglass and Henry Clay volleyball teams are on positive terms, though; Erin’s team would even come over and use Henry Clay’s gym while Douglass’ was still being put together over the summer.
“I think our group, the two volleyball teams, have really taken to each other,” Dale said.
He was impressed with how hard Douglass played in its opening match.
“They were close to 20 (points) every game. There’s other teams that have never done that against us and this is a first-year program,” Dale said. “I can honestly say we didn’t take it easy on ’em.”
He too thought Harrison made a big difference throughout the evening.
“She dug our best hitters three or four times, and that’s very impressive. Those are the same girls that get kills against the Mercy’s and the Assumption’s and stuff, and she sat back and dug ’em,” Dale said. “They did a really good job and I think they’re gonna surprise some people this year.
“Hopefully it won’t be us.”