Sports

Dunbar knocks off No. 13 Devils

RICHMOND — Paul Dunbar volleyball coach Jenni Morgan has called her team "underdogs" all season, but that label no longer fits, not after the Bulldogs stunned defending champion Henry Clay 2-0 in the 11th Region finals Thursday night.

"These girls, they had it in them," Morgan said. "I've never seen a team that absolutely wanted it more after being underdogs for so long."

Senior Danica Fick and sophomore Maddie Hatcher led Dunbar to a 25-17, 25-17 sweep of the 23rd-ranked Blue Devils, and earned the Bulldogs a trip to the state tournament at Bellarmine University in Louisville next week.

Hatcher noted that Dunbar hadn't won a region title since 2000, "but we felt this was the year, and we definitely earned it by beating Henry Clay."

Fick called the victory "amazing" and "indescribable. Henry Clay was supposed to win, so we had nothing to lose. We took it to them and proved everybody wrong."

The Blue Devils led early in both sets, but they couldn't sustain any runs. Dunbar kept them off-balance all night with superb serves, digs and defense.

"Danica and Maddie were great," Morgan said. "Rachel Lowry played well from the service line and at the net.

"Kelly Cole and Mariya Kobyashi did a great job on defense. And Stephani Cleaver . . . has done an amazing job this year, too."

Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe, whose Devils were looking for their fourth region title in eight years, was surprised by his team's lackluster performance.

"We played so many big matches this year, so many tournaments out of state, I really felt we'd be ready to go tonight, but we weren't," Grupe said.

"As with any team in any sport, you'd like to go out playing your 'A' or 'B' game, but we definitely didn't bring that tonight.

"Hats off to Dunbar. They did. They came out and played a good game."

Nobody took the loss harder than Henry Clay star Annalee Abell, who tried to rally her team with a series of kills down the stretch. When the match ended, she dropped to her knees in tears.

Henry Clay ended the season 33-12.

Morgan said before the title match she figured Dunbar's chances were at least 50-50. "Henry Clay had beaten us twice, and I knew it's hard to beat a good team three times, and we are a good team."

She also thought her Bulldogs had the advantage of being underdogs.

"They had no pressure on them, so they didn't play timid," she said. "When you play timid, you make mistakes and it takes you out of your game."

Instead, Dunbar was on top of its game.

"We played like we'd never played before," Hatcher said. "We were consistent every single point."

Dunbar had made a run at the region title a few times since 2000, but never could get through to the state.

"We knocked on the door and it finally opened," Morgan said. "The girls finally knocked hard enough."

Dunbar will take a 26-14 record to Louisville where it will face the 15th Region champ, either Belfry or Betsy Layne, Friday afternoon at Bellarmine.

All-tournament team: Rachel Lowry, Danica Fick, Maddie Hatcher of Dunbar; Annalee Abell, Jennifer O'Brien of Henry Clay; Casey Cleary of Lexington Catholic; Blaire Barnhart of LCA; Shana Ayers of Western Hills; Nealy Williams of Bryan Station; Whitney Holker of Madison Central; Olivia Howell of Franklin County.

RICHMOND — Paul Dunbar volleyball coach Jenni Morgan has called her team "underdogs" all season, but that label no longer fits, not after the Bulldogs stunned defending champion Henry Clay 2-0 in the 11th Region finals Thursday night.

"These girls, they had it in them," Morgan said. "I've never seen a team that absolutely wanted it more after being underdogs for so long."

Senior Danica Fick and sophomore Maddie Hatcher led Dunbar to a 25-17, 25-17 sweep of the 13th-ranked Blue Devils, and earned the Bulldogs a trip to the state tournament at Bellarmine University in Louisville next week.

Hatcher noted that Dunbar hadn't won a region title since 2000, "but we felt this was the year, and we definitely earned it by beating Henry Clay."

Fick called the victory "amazing" and "indescribable. Henry Clay was supposed to win, so we had nothing to lose. We took it to them and proved everybody wrong."

The Blue Devils led early in both sets, but they couldn't sustain any runs. Dunbar kept them off-balance all night with superb serves, digs and defense.

"Danica and Maddie were great," Morgan said. "Rachel Lowry played well from the service line and at the net.

"Kelly Cole and Mariya Kobyashi did a great job on defense. And Stephani Cleaver ... has done an amazing job this year, too."

Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe, whose Devils were looking for their fourth region title in eight years, was surprised by his team's lackluster performance.

"We played so many big matches this year, so many tournaments out of state, I really felt we'd be ready to go tonight, but we weren't," Grupe said.

"As with any team in any sport, you'd like to go out playing your 'A' or 'B' game, but we definitely didn't bring that tonight.

"Hats off to Dunbar. They did. They came out and played a good game."

Nobody took the loss harder than Henry Clay star Annalee Abell, who tried to rally her team with a series of kills down the stretch. When the match ended, she dropped to her knees in tears.

Henry Clay ended the season 33-12.

Morgan said before the title match she figured Dunbar's chances were at least 50-50. "Henry Clay had beaten us twice, and I knew it's hard to beat a good team three times, and we are a good team."

She also thought her Bulldogs had the advantage of being underdogs.

"They had no pressure on them, so they didn't play timid," she said. "When you play timid, you make mistakes and it takes you out of your game."

Instead, Dunbar was on top of its game.

"We played like we'd never played before," Hatcher said. "We were consistent every single point."

Dunbar had made a run at the region title a few times since 2000, but never could get through to the state.

"We knocked on the door and it finally opened," Morgan said. "The girls finally knocked hard enough."

Dunbar will take a 26-14 record to Louisville where it will face the 15th Region champ, Belfry, on Friday afternoon at Bellarmine.

All-tournament team: Rachel Lowry, Danica Fick, Maddie Hatcher of Dunbar; Annalee Abell, Jennifer O'Brien of Henry Clay; Casey Cleary of Lexington Catholic; Blaire Barnhart of LCA; Shana Ayers of Western Hills; Nealy Williams of Bryan Station; Whitney Holker of Madison Central; Olivia Howell of Franklin County.

Assumption knocked out

Assumption, which has won 14 of the last 16 state titles, was defeated by Sacred Heart in the 7th Region title game Thursday night. Sacred Heart led from the beginning in the first set and staged a late comeback in the second to win in straight sets, 25-14, 25-21, and deny Assumption another trip to the State Tournament.

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