BEREA — Before Henry Clay took on Paul Laurence Dunbar in the 11th Region volleyball semifinals on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils got amped up and ready to roll.
"We were all jumping around, listening to music and getting hyped," junior hitter Elle Barnett said. "We wanted to really bring it."
They brought it, all right, turning the showdown between top 10 teams into a three-game sweep.
Led by Barnett's stellar play, No. 6 Henry Clay beat No. 9 Dunbar 25-20, 25-22, 25-10 to get a shot at three-peating as region champs.
Henry Clay will play No. 14 Tates Creek in the finals Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
The Commodores, who dominated Scott County 25-12, 25-14, 25-13 in their semifinal, are seeking their first region title since 2005.
"If we stay positive and play as a team, I have complete faith my team can win," Commodores Coach Sara Chaffin said. "Henry Clay has been in this position many times. They know how to play in these types of games. Tates Creek hasn't had this opportunity in a long time."
Henry Clay went into the semifinals looking to settle a score with Dunbar, which beat the Devils last month.
Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said that regular-season match "meant confidence for Dunbar, and it was definitely a rallying cry for us."
Grupe said the Devils' brutal schedule, which included 10 losses to out-of-state powers, toughened up his team.
"We learned not to back down when mistakes were made or when the other team made a run," he said. "That showed tonight."
Henry Clay finished strong in taking the first two close, pressure-packed games.
Barnett said that showed the Devils' "will to win. We went for it every single time."
The Devils also got strong play from seniors Elizabeth Combs, Emily McLendon and Natsuki Yamawaki, ever-improving sophomores Olivia Dixon, Ca'Layci Coffey and Lynsey Short, and eighth-grader Hallie Short.
Dunbar pushed Henry Clay to the wire in the first two games, with Olivia Canalas, Gabbi Thatcher, Joia Pollard, Hope Gassett, Alyssa Gatewood and Alyson Hatfield making big plays.
But coming up just short in those close ones sapped the Bulldogs' energy and enthusiasm. They lost a lopsided third game and their 15-match winning streak came to an end.
"It just wasn't our night," Coach Jenni Morgan said. "The girls worked extremely hard, but we couldn't get anything going."
Morgan was voted 11th Region coach of the year by the coaches' association for leading the Bulldogs to a 30-8 record and top-10 ranking
"Unfortunately, every team but one ends the season with a loss," she said. "But with all the things we accomplished this season, I couldn't be more proud of my team."
Tates Creek took care of business in the nightcap as it swept Scott County for the second time this year.
Sophomore hitter Kendall Beerman, the region's player of the year, led the Commodores, along with senior setter Danielle Merryman, who was celebrating her birthday.
Chaffin said those two players hold the key to Tates Creek's chances in the finals.
"It's going to take Danielle being on because she runs my offense, Kendall hitting the shots, and everybody else doing the things they can do," Chaffin said
"We're very focused right now. We wanted to peak at the right time, and I think we're there."