Henry Clay dropped its first set of to Dunbar in the 11th Region semifinals on Wednesday, 25-22, on a big kill by Bulldogs star Leah Edmond. The Blue Devils never led and at several times were down five points.
Henry Clay was determined not to lose the rest of the night, taking three straight games — 25-17, 25-22 and 25-22 — to advance to the region championship with a 3-1 match victory.
Hallie Shelton had seven kills for the Blue Devils in the second game, including three in a decisive stretch where they scored on four straight volleys to end the set.
Shelton added eight more kills in game three, a back-and-forth affair which saw both teams hold four-point advantages and five lead changes overall.
At 22-22 in game three, sophomore Myana Carter attempted to enter for the Blue Devils. As she moved onto the court from the bench, she collapsed and fell face first to the floor. Trainers and coaches surrounded Carter, who sat up and eventually walked off with some help.
Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said he wasn't sure what happened and that Carter had never fainted before. Luckily, Grupe said, she didn't hit her head.
The Blue Devils huddled together to collect their focus as play was stopped, Shelton said, but were motivated by Carter's injury.
"The whole time we were out there we said 'We're doing this for you Myana," Shelton said. "And we did it."
In game four, Henry Clay fought off a Dunbar team eager to force a fifth and final game. The Bulldogs jumped out to an 8-1 lead in that one before the Blue Devils rallied to tie things at 20-20. The teams traded a few points before a Henry Clay 3-0 run extinguished Dunbar's hopes for an upset.
Shelton relished coming onto an opponent's home court and winning such a crucial game — especially after Dunbar dispatched Henry Clay in the Blue Devils' arena last year en route to a state title berth.
"For me, and I'm pretty positive for the rest of my team, it's the best feeling ever," Shelton said. "It's great to come into such a hostile environment and then shut 'em down basically. I love it."
Shelton, a junior, finished with 26 kills in the match.
Henry Clay values competition and loves the "urgency to fight" that comes with facing deficits as it did in game four, said Raven Barleston, the squad's lone senior.
"We just know that the next game we're going to have to fight even harder," Barleston said.
Edmond, a University of Kentucky commit, finished her final high school match with 27 kills.
"She is one of the best athletes to have walked through the doors here at Dunbar," Bulldogs Coach Jennifer Morgan said. "It was an honor to coach her and watch her ... improve aspects of her game that people didn't think that she would be able to do."
It'd be hard to accuse Dunbar of not leaving it all out there — an official timeout was ordered in game two after Katie Shunk bled all over the court after re-opening a floor burn on a dig.
For Morgan it was a team that helped fill a void after her father's passing this spring.
"I owe it all to my dad, who got me involved in coaching and taught me that, yes, everyone wants to win but it's not always about wins and losses," Morgan said. "It's about watching these girls develop as young ladies and helping them prepare for their future."
Commodores defeat Cards
After winning its first two games, 25-16 and 25-15, Tates Creek needed to come back from a game-three loss to take the second semifinals match from Scott County, 3-1.
The Commodores fell 25-18 in the third set before cruising to a 25-16 win in game four to set up its third match against Henry Clay this season.
"I felt like we kind of drifted," said Doris Carter, a Tates Creek junior commited to N.C. State, of the game-three letdown. "You can't play like that and wins games, so we gotta get it together."
Tates Creek has dropped 20 straight matches to the Blue Devils since 2005 — also the last time the Commodores won a region title.