LOUISVILLE — Assumption, flashing the power and precision that has it ranked No. 2 in the nation in one poll, rolled past Henry Clay in the quarterfinals of the 33rd state volleyball tournament at Bellarmine University on Saturday morning.
The defending state champion Rockets were at their best in routing Henry Clay 25-8 in the first set, then were methodical in taking the second set 25-18 in Knights Hall.
Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe admitted that his team was a little shell-shocked in the early going against the 15-time state titleists.
"It's hard not to be intimidated by them," Grupe said. "They're so big, so tough at all three positions, and they're relentless.
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"It was a daunting task early because when you fall behind a good team like that, they're going to keep pounding you into the ground."
No. 6 Henry Clay stunned No. 3 Mercy in Friday's opening round. Devils senior hitter Emily Stromberg said they "weren't as excited" going in against No. 1 Assumption.
It showed as the Rockets roared to a 20-3 lead.
"We needed a little more energy, a little more boost," she said. "They have a really fast offense that we're not used to, and it messed up our blocking.
"We played much better in the second game when we got more comfortable with their speed."
Henry Clay stayed with Assumption through most of the second set. It trailed 16-15 and 19-16. But the Rockets took off from there to run their record to 41-1. (The loss was to a Georgia school.)
Assumption was led by senior star Katie George, who had 16 assists. Hannah Moore had eight kills, and Taylor Long had five.
Henry Clay senior setter Jordan Strickland, who was named to the all-tournament team, had eight assists. Stromberg had four kills, six digs and two assists. Nicole Jenkins had three kills.
Assumption Coach Ron Kordes, who admitted that he had prepared his team for Mercy all week, was impressed by Henry Clay's tenacity as the match wore on.
"They looked a little intimidated early, but they came after us in the second set with aggressive serving. It was like two different teams we played."
Grupe said the difference between the Rockets and their challengers is "they're just so good technically. They're always in the right place. They've got six people out there playing flawlessly."
Despite the loss, Henry Clay accomplished a lot this season, going 33-9 against a strong schedule and knocking off perennial power Mercy.
"I like to think we're a little bit of a pioneer, but we're not the only public school getting there," Grupe said. "There are several good teams out in the state and city making great headway.
"Maybe us (beating Mercy) will let the Lone Oaks, the Greenwoods, the Lafayettes, the Dunbars know they can play with these guys, too."
This Henry Clay senior class — Strickland, Stromberg, Jenkins, Ariana Andres and Denise Schaeffer — made its mark. It was part of 141 victories in four years, two trips to the state tournament, including an appearance in the semifinals last year.