In the first set of Wednesday's 11th Region volleyball semifinals, host Lexington Christian was giving No. 5 Henry Clay fits. Blue Devils Coach Dale Grupe said his team wasn't playing with its usual fire. His team had to dig deep.
Digging deep required hitting the ball deep. The Blue Devils did and advanced to the regional finals with a 25-18, 25-12 victory.
Grupe noticed the Lady Eagles' defense was playing everything close to the net, and they fired off six straight points early to come within one point of Henry Clay's 11-10 first-set advantage. But when the Blue Devils found that uncovered area near the baseline, they exploited it.
That's what it took to wake up Henry Clay (39-4), Grupe said.
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"I didn't think we had the same fire but again, it's hard to have that same fire every night," Grupe said. "What was good about this match, LCA made us wake up to get that fire. They forced us to play. That was great."
Henry Clay has won 16 matches in a row, a streak during which it has not dropped a set.
The season ended for LCA (14-14) in the regional semifinal after winning its first-ever district title.
"When we played (Henry Clay) early in the season, the score was much different than it was tonight," Coach Teresa Ford said. "We feel like we really progressed."
Henry Clay will play in Thursday's regional finals for its first state tournament berth since 2007. The Blue Devils lost in the 11th Region finals in 2008 and 2009, both to Paul Dunbar — their opponent Thursday.
Grupe said the No. 5 team's fire will burn from start to finish without even a flicker.
"We've played them three times (this season)," Grupe said. "They know us, we know them. We've been fortunate to finish on top three times but we feel pretty good that we match up well with them tomorrow in the game that counts. We won't be asleep tomorrow, I know that."
Paul Dunbar def. Bryan Station 25-11, 25-10: Instead of focusing its attack, No. 11 Paul Dunbar (28-11) focused on making its offensive attack seem unfocused.
Coach Jenni Morgan watched Bryan Station's win in the 11th Region quarterfinals Monday and noticed some holes in the Lady Defenders' defense. Dunbar's practice on Tuesday was spent scattering shots across the floor.
Morgan's plan worked. Across two sets, Bryan Station (20-15) never strung together more than two points in a row and the Lady Bulldogs rolled.
Next up for Dunbar is Henry Clay.
"Henry Clay's a very solid team this year. They've improved themselves from the beginning to where they are now," Morgan said. "We know that if we're going to play with them we have to be at our best, which we were pretty close tonight. ... We know we have to keep playing at our best."
Morgan said beating the Devils might take another effort from an offense focused on a precise, scattered attack.
"I felt like we came out and really attacked well, really executing," Morgan said. "Our hitters were spot-on with where they put the ball. We need that again, and I think we can do it."
Bryan Station's last trip to the region semifinals was 2007. It lost then, too, to Dunbar.