When Henry Clay beat perennial power Mercy 25-15, 25-22 in the first round of the state volleyball tournament last fall, it was a stunning upset, probably the biggest ever by a Lexington volleyball team.
Repeating that kind of victory will be more difficult in the future, however. The KHSAA has changed the rules for district, region and state tournament matches. Instead of a best-of-three format, it will be best-of-five.
That means underdog teams will have to win three games instead of just two.
"It might be too much to ask an up-and-coming school like us to beat a team like that three times," Devils coach Dale Grupe said. "They'll beat us nine out of 10 times, or 99 out of 100.
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"It's going to be harder to sneak up on somebody."
Closer to home, though, the new format works in Henry Clay's favor. The Devils are usually the better team against city or Central Kentucky competition.
The KHSAA also realigned volleyball districts, and that meant a big change for Lexington teams. Last year Lexington Catholic and Lexington Christian Academy were in the 42nd District with East Jessamine and West Jessamine; Henry Clay, Lafayette, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Tates Creek made up the 43rd; Bryan Station was in the 44th with Berea, Madison Central and Madison Southern.
The new alignment has Bryan Station, Henry Clay and Scott County in the 42nd, and Dunbar, Lafayette, Lexington Catholic, LCA and Tates Creek in the 43rd.
"It doesn't make sense for our district to have only three teams, and (the 43rd) to have five," Grupe said.
"Why can't one of them come over with us? That's the biggest gripe about it."
Coach: Aussie Stoencheva
Last year: 11-14 (Lost to Lafayette in first round of region)
Top players: Rachel Murphy (sr. oh), Haamiah Nicholson (jr., oh), Devan DeLeon (sr., ds), Victoria McCoy (jr., mb), Tiara Taylor (sr., libero), Shelby McLean (8th, mb), Mallory Zaino (jr., ob), Ginger McCauley (sr., ds), Sarah Marietta (sr., ds), Jensyn Campbell (fr., mb).
Outlook: The Defenders have experienced outside hitters Murphy and Nicholson, and middle blockers McLean and McCoy. They need to develop a setter, though. Stoencheva is optimistic Bryan Station will be improved, but she realizes her program is still playing catch-up in the city.
Aug. 21—WESTERN HILLS; 23—LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN; 28—SCOTT CO.; 30—at Henry Clay; Sept. 4—MADISON SOUTHERN; 6—MADISON CENTRAL; 11—LAFAYETTE; 13—HENRY CLAY; 18—WOODFORD CO.; 25—PULASKI CO.; 27—at Scott Co.; Oct. 2—PAUL DUNBAR; 4—at Tates Creek.
Coach: Dale Grupe (15th season)
Last year: 33-9 (Lost to eventual champ Assumption in state quarterfinals)
Top players: Natsuki Yamawaki (sr., libero), Elizabeth Combs (sr., ds), Emily McClendon (sr., mb), Elle Barnett (jr., rs), Calayci Coffey (so., mb), Lynsey Short (so., setter), Sydney Short (jr., oh/ds), Avery Brown (so., oh/ds), Hallie Shelton (8th, oh).
Outlook: The Devils are No. 4 in the state in the pre-season coaches' poll. "That might be a little high," Grupe said. "But I'd rank us in the top six or seven. We're pretty solid. This may be my best team in my 18 years in coaching as far as the best chemistry, getting along, working hard and pushing the ball around."
Blue Devils' schedule
Aug. 21—LEXINGTON CATHOLIC; 23—at Newport Catholic; 29—at Scott Co.; 30—BRYAN STATION; 31—at Lafayette tournament; Sept. 1—at Lafayette tournament; 7-8—at Effingham, Ill. Crossroads Classic; 11—at Paul Dunbar; 13—at Bryan Station; 22-23—at Mother of Mercy (Ohio) Fall Classic; 25—TATES CREEK.; 27—at Mercy; 28-29—at Asics Class in Chicago; Oct. 1—LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN; 2—at Lafayette; 4—ST. HENRY.
Coach: Chris Langston (19th season)
Last year: 30-7 (Lost to Henry Clay in region finals)
Top players: Sarah Jenkins (sr., rs/mh); Jackie Britt (sr., oh), Annie King (sr., setter), Chandler Kinley (jr.,ds), Cassidy Speer (sr., ds), Abbie Bowling (sr., ds), Tiffany Jones (sr., ds).
Outlook: The Generals are loaded with experience with longtime starters Jenkins, Britt, King and Kinley. Jenkins is one of the top offensive players around. Langston has toughened Lafayette's schedule to get them ready for the post-season.
Aug. 28—RYLE; 31—THOROUGHBRED SMASH AT KBA; Sept. 1—THOROUGHBRED SMASH AT KBA; 5—at Lexington Catholic; 6—at Beechwood; 11—at Bryan Station; 13—at Tates Creek; 18—LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN; 20—PAUL DUNBAR; 25—at Louisville Christian; 26—WOODFORD CO.; Oct. 2—HENRY CLAY; 4—HIGHLANDS.
Coach: Mark McCloskey (Fifth season)
Last year: 16-23 (Lost to Lafayette in region semifinals)
Top players: Cody Michaels (sr., libero), Samantha Thomas (jr., mb), Catherine Young (jr., ds), Abby James (so., mb), Emma Iler (so., setter), Audrey Johns (9th, rs), Morgan Justice (8th, mb/rs).
Outlook: McCloskey thinks the Knights have a good mix of experience, size and promising newcomers. "We have the opportunity to do some good things," the coach said. "We should be able to compete at a higher level."
Aug. 21—at Henry Clay; 30—SCOTT CO.; Sept. 4—SOUTH OLDHAM; 5—LAFAYETTE; 7-8—at Louisville Invitational; 11—at Lexington Christian; 13—PRESENTATION; 14-15—at Woodford Co. Invitational; 20—TATES CREEK; 26—at Franklin Co.; 27—PAUL DUNBAR; 28-29—at Jefferson Co. Invitational; Oct. 2—at Louisville Christian.
Coach: Teresa Ford (Seventh season)
Last year: 22-11 (Lost to Henry Clay in region semifinals)
Top players: Alli Evans (jr., oh), Emily Terry (sr., mb), Jade Evanoff (jr., mb), Macy Galloway (so., libero), Brooke Wiley (sr., ds), Jordan Woeste (fr., rs), Meredith Ford (fr., os), Laurel Elder (fr., ds).
Outlook: LCA's strength is returning three front-line starters in Evans, Terry and Evanoff. The team's potential rests with the development of newcomers. "We're expecting another good season, but this will be a building year bringing along the younger players," Ford said.
Aug. 23—at Bryan Station; 28—WESTERN HILLS; 30—at Harrison Co.; Sept. 4—FRANKLIN CO.; 6—WOODFORD CO.; 11—LEXINGTON CATHOLIC; 13—at Scott Co.; 18—at Lafayette; 25—at Paul Dunbar; 27—TATES CREEK; Oct. 1—at Henry Clay; Oct. 4—LOUISVILLE CHRISTIAN.
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
Coach: Jenni Morgan (Eighth season)
Last year: 15-19 (Lost to Henry Clay in district)
Top players: Joia Pollard (sr., mh), Emma Landers (sr., rs), Gabbi Thatcher (sr., mh), Alyssa Gatewood (jr., setter), Hope Gassett (jr., libero), Olivia Canalas (so., oh).
Outlook: After a rare losing record last year, Dunbar looks to bounce back behind veterans Pollard, Landers, Thatcher, Gatewood and Gassett. "The team has been working really hard and it should be a fun season," Morgan said.
Aug. 21—BOONE CO; 23—at South Oldham; 28—NORTH OLDHAM; 30—at Disney tournament in Orlando, Fla; Sept. 4—at Woodford Co.; 6—TATES CREEK; 7—at Louisville Invitational; 11—HENRY CLAY; 20—at Lafayette; 25—LEXINGTON CHRISTIAN; 27—at Lexington Catholic; 29—at Greenwood; Oct. 1—at Eastern; 2—at Bryan Station; 4—SCOTT CO.
Coach: Sara Chaffin (First season)
Last year: 25-9 (Lost to Lafayette in district)
Top players: Danielle Merryman (sr., setter), Sydney Meaux (sr., ds), Kendall Beerman (so., oh), Taylor Reihing (jr., setter), Michaela Carter (so., mh), Macy Reihing (8th, libero).
Outlook: Chaffin inherits a solid nucleus, led by senior captain Merryman and sophomore standout Beerman. If the Commodores can develop middle hitters and teamwork, Chaffin said, they can "surprise some people this year."
Aug. 21—MADISON CENTRAL; 23—CONNER; Sept. 4—at Scott Co.; 6—at Paul Dunbar; 11—at Woodford Co.; 13—LAFAYETTE; 18—OLDHAM CO.; 21—at Highlands Cake Classic; 25—at Henry Clay; 26—RYLE; 27—at Lexington Christian; Oct. 4—BRYAN STATION; 6—SOUTHWESTERN.