In 37 seasons of KHSAA-sponsored volleyball, a public school has never won a state title. Only six schools, period, have basked in the championship glow. Those facts don’t preclude a different-looking future, but they make it hard to inspire faith among the other 255 schools in the state currently fielding volleyball teams.
Henry Clay, ranked fourth in Kentucky, and Tates Creek, the No. 5 team entering the week, are the torch-bearers among public schools this season. Entering Monday they were a combined 36-3, with none of the losses coming against Kentucky competition. Many of the wins have been compiled against some of the nation’s best out-of-state teams.
The Blue Devils (18-2) host Creek (18-1) Tuesday in a possible 11th Region championship game preview, which also would more or less serve as the de facto public school championship.
For Tates Creek, Tuesday presents a chance to finally show that it’s arrived as a program after living in Henry Clay’s shadow for much of the past decade. A star-studded senior class led by three Division I commits — Doris Carter (South Florida), Macy Reihing (Ohio) and Lindsey Wilkins (Indiana State) — has never tasted victory over the Blue Devils.
“If anybody in town ever asks us who our biggest rival is, everybody knows it’s Henry Clay,” Commodores Coach Sara Chaffin said. “We’ve been talking about that since day one.”
Creek’s last match win over Henry Clay was in the first round of the 41st District Tournament in 2005. Since then, the Commodores have lost 19 matches and 49 of 59 sets to the Blue Devils. All 10 sets Creek won in the last 10 seasons were during Chaffin’s tenure, which began in the 2012 season.
“We go five sets with them all the time but we just can’t finish,” Chaffin said. “I think a lot of it is mental. You think about UK-U of L; the rivalry is there and it becomes a mental game.
“Sometimes girls let that take over a little bit more than guys do but it’s kind of been that ‘This is the team we can’t beat.’”
If anybody in town ever asks us who our biggest rival is, everybody knows it’s Henry Clay. We’ve been talking about that since day one.
Sara Chaffin, Tates Creek coach
Henry Clay, on the other hand, hopes to continue its reign as the city’s most consistent threat to the Louisville power trio — Assumption, Mercy and Sacred Heart. The Blue Devils have made the state tournament all but one of the past six seasons. This year’s edition might be the most talented in program history, featuring a roster of four Division I commits in Kaitlyn Hord (Penn State), Darby Music (Western Kentucky), Hallie Shelton (WKU) and Emma Yarber (Western Michigan).
They’ve played a schedule that backs up such hype. By season’s end Henry Clay will have played almost all of the state’s top-15 teams. A road trip to No. 2 Assumption on Monday preceded its matchup with Tates Creek on Tuesday.
Coach Dale Grupe said Henry Clay had to see where it stood against the Rockets before quickly shifting its focus to Creek.
6The number of schools who have won Kentucky state championships in volleyball (Assumption, Mercy, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart, St. Henry, Villa Madonna)
“It’s pretty hard to come back and play a big city matchup, but that’s what we do, so we’ll be ready for that, too,” Grupe said.
The Kentucky-Indiana Volleyball Academy, directed by Assumption Coach Ron Kordes, has long been a talent-booster for the Louisville area. Both Henry Clay and Tates Creek, along with Paul Laurence Dunbar, have carved out space as the state’s most prolific public school programs thanks in large part to the rise of Lexington United’s club volleyball program. Year-round play has raised the level of play countywide, Chaffin said.
Were the state championships divided into private and public tournaments, as is the case in some states, there’s a good chance Lexington would be a volleyball Mecca. That’d be nice, Grupe said, but that isn’t how things work in Kentucky and it’s unlikely to ever change. So when a team finally does break through, he said, it’ll be “really, really, really special.”
We used to think we always had to play these perfect games and the truth is we don’t. We don’t have to play perfect to beat these teams anymore.
Dale Grupe, Henry Clay coach on going against the state’s top private schools
And Grupe doesn’t think his girls are too far from breaking through.
“We used to think we always had to play these perfect games and the truth is we don’t,” Grupe said. “ … We don’t have to play perfect to beat these teams anymore. We’re gonna make our share of mistakes but we’re good enough to make them make a lot of mistakes too. That’s what’s exciting now.
“I won’t lie to you, 10 years ago, it was like ‘We’ve gotta play an A game and they’ve gotta play a D game and maybe we’ll have a chance.’ We can play a B or a C game and we’ve got a chance to beat ’em on any given night now, so that’s what’s kind of fun about it. There isn’t that pressure of having to play perfect.”
State volleyball poll
The Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association top 10 (first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Sacred Heart (11)
2. Assumption (8)
4. Henry Clay
5. Tates Creek
6. North Oldham
7. Notre Dame
9. St. Henry
10. Paul Laurence Dunbar
Tates Creek at Henry Clay
When: 7:30 p.m.
Records: Tates Creek, 18-1; Henry Clay, 18-2
Live updates: Follow Josh Moore on Twitter @hlpreps