High School Sports

Volleyball: Henry Clay eyes elusive state tourney trip

Henry Clay's Mikayla Reese (3), a Morehead State commitment, hit the ball against Greenwood last season. The senior is a big reason the Devils are ranked No. 6 in the state coaches' poll.
Henry Clay's Mikayla Reese (3), a Morehead State commitment, hit the ball against Greenwood last season. The senior is a big reason the Devils are ranked No. 6 in the state coaches' poll.

Dale Grupe paints a nice picture.

The Henry Clay coach says all the right things and tells his players that volleyball is just a game and that they're all winners because they're good teammates.

He tells them being region runners-up the last two seasons is an incredible accomplishment.

But he knows that falling short has irked his players.

"It's frustrating when you go two years without winning it when you think you should have," Grupe acknowledged.

And as volleyball season starts Monday, Grupe sees a team that is extra motivated.

"They don't wanna feel the way they've felt the last two years," he said.

"We can't go backward, only forward and we're really excited about where this team's headed right now," Grupe said.

He has reason to be. The Devils showed they're the team to beat in this area by winning the Bluegrass State Games last month.

They start the season as the highest ranked public school in the state coaches' poll, coming in at No. 6.

As is the norm, the pre-season poll is dominated by private schools and teams from the Louisville and Northern Kentucky areas.

The top five are defending state champion Mercy, followed by No. 2 Sacred Heart, No. 3 Assumption, No. 4 Notre Dame and fifth-ranked St. Henry.

The only other non-Louisville or non-Northern Kentucky team in the top 10 is the Devils' chief nemesis the past few years, No. 10 Paul Laurence Dunbar.

"They've won two years in a row, they've got all the respect in the world," Grupe said.

Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan is happy to let the target rest on Henry Clay's back.

"The Bluegrass State Games showed Henry Clay is the best team in the city right now," she said.

But she acknowledged there's a ton of balance, especially in the teams' district where three of the four teams are ranked among the state's top 13 teams.

"I don't think Tates Creek, Lafayette or us are that far behind," said Morgan, whose Bulldogs return several key players from last season's state quarterfinalists, including All-City Player of the Year Maddie Hatcher. "It's pretty even, but Henry Clay's on top right now.

"Could they stay on top the whole season? There's no doubt in my mind at all, but I think the other teams are just as good and on any given day any team is beatable."

Coach Chris Langston, whose Generals are rated No. 13 and are "young with something to prove," has a healthy respect for every team in the 41st District.

"It's stacked," he said. "We're all always pretty darn good, but this year it's really stacked."

Other city teams that like their chances to get back to the region tournament include Lexington Christian and Bryan Station, who return a large chunk of their talent from last season.

Others like Creek and Lexington Catholic are relying on young talent but think they could be there at the end and upset some of the top teams.

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