Henry Clay, Paul Dunbar reach finals

It was a fitting start to the volleyball post-season, Henry Clay and host Tates Creek locked in a struggle in the first game of the 41st District semifinals Tuesday night.

The biggest lead was four points, by Tates Creek. Ten ties from the midpoint on kept the tension at a high threshold.

The Devils' Annalee Abell dropped a soft return over the net to get Henry Clay even at 23. The Commodores couldn't return Kate Stromberg's serve nor could they get the ball over the net on the next point.

Henry Clay's 25-23 win was followed by a 25-12 victory, sending the Devils into the district finals against Paul Dunbar, a 25-18, 25-9 winner over Lafayette in the other semifinal match.

The title match is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Tates Creek. Both teams advance to the 11th Region Tournament at Madison Central next week.

"We tell ourselves we've got three chances," Devils Coach Dale Grupe said. "If we lose one game, we're still confident.

"Tates Creek had won 16 in a row, and we just tried to play through it. We began keeping our serves in after too many service errors, and that put more pressure on them."

Her Commodores were prepared, Coach Megan Filburn said. "We knew what to do, knew where the holes were. The first game was awesome because we executed. The second game? I don't know."

Tates Creek led from the start of the first game. Henry Clay finally went ahead 15-14 before the Commodores regained the lead.

"Tates Creek came out and took it to us," said Abell, Henry Clay's star hitter and defensive specialist. "Everyone was nervous.

"We focused on our passing. Once we get the pass up, no one can stop our hitters."

Said sophomore Mikayla Reese said, "We weren't playing our best, and we had to pick ourselves up. We were too confident in the first game. We got more level in the second game."

Henry Clay (29-11) broke an early tie and scored 12 of the last 17 points.

"Our team has talent," Filburn said, "but we struggle sometimes with the mental game. We've beaten a lot of teams in the top 25. If we win the first game, we would be talking a different story."

Dunbar trailed once in the first game against Lafayette, took a 3-2 lead, built it to 22-12, and lost its first four game points before Stephani Cleaver tipped over the final score.

The Bulldogs never trailed in the second game. A 7-0 run opened a 19-8 lead, and Dunbar scored 13 of the last 14 points.

"It starts with passing," Dunbar Coach Jennifer Morgan said. "If we pass, great things will happen. We also didn't make service reception errors. We served really well, and that took (Lafayette) out of their strength."

Sophomore middle hitter Rachel Lowry said, "Everything seemed to be our strength. The adrenaline was pumping, and the fans were motivated. We knew Lafayette was ready to fight, but we were ready, too."

Teammate Maddie Hatcher, a sophomore outside hitter, enjoyed the victory.

"A lot was riding on this," she said. "To win is a powerful feeling. Everybody was a part of every play."

Hatcher had several kills but also had a soft touch on drop shots over the net as part of Dunbar's balanced game.