Nothing about Thursday's 11th Region volleyball tournament finals was unfamiliar to its contestants.
It was the fourth matchup of the season for No. 5 Henry Clay and No. 11 Paul Dunbar. The two schools also have met each of the last four seasons in the 11th Region finals.
Nothing one team did was going to surprise the other.
Attacking powerfully and from start to finish, the Lady Blue Devils (40-4) won 25-14, 25-16 to advance to the 2010 KHSAA state volleyball tournament. Henry Clay, which won all four matches against Dunbar this season in straight sets, used dominating runs early in each set to distance itself: a 10-2 run in the first set and an 8-0 run in the second after Dunbar (28-12) opened with two quick points.
"We're pretty confident with how we matched up with (Dunbar), so we weren't going to worry about a few points even though it got them energized," Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said. "We basically just stayed with our game plan. Their outside hitter hit a couple of good shots off our block, but that's volleyball. There was no way she was going to do that 25 straight times, so we just kept doing what we were doing, and it started bouncing our way."
After playing Dunbar three times in the regular season — all of which the Lady Blue Devils handled easily — Henry Clay senior outside hitter Kate Stromberg said she wasn't looking for anything unexpected. Execution and mind-set would decide Thursday's winner. When Dunbar won the regional finals in 2008 and 2009, Stromberg said, her team collapsed mentally and couldn't recover.
And after falling asleep at the wheel early against Lexington Christian in the regional semifinal, Stromberg said Henry Clay would allow anything but a mental collapse.
"We beat (Dunbar) in the district tournament, which was good, but we knew they were going to come back hungry," she said. "We definitely stepped up and played our game. The years we lost to them in this part of the year, it was us being out-thinked. It didn't happen this year, though."
Throughout Thursday's match, Henry Clay's attack was consistent. Only once did it allow Dunbar to score more than three straight points (a 5-0 run while Henry Clay was stuck on match point).
Having coached against the Lady Blue Devils three times already this season, Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan knew to expect consistency.
"They played a good game, and that's what we expected," Morgan said. "We expected consistency and we got it. We knew they wouldn't have any letdowns, and we had to be at our best. We showed moments of glory, and I'm very proud of their efforts tonight, but Henry Clay will do great things in the state tournament."
After the match, Grupe said it didn't make a difference to him who Henry Clay beat to clinch a state tournament berth, even though Dunbar knocked out the Lady Blue Devils each of the past two seasons. "We respect (Dunbar) a great deal, but we'd be just as happy if we beat Lafayette or Tates Creek or any other team."
Seniors Stromberg and Mikayla Reese, neither of whom had beaten Dunbar in a regional finals since their freshman years, found Thursday's win that much sweeter.
"Oh, definitely," Stromberg said. "We knew that coming in, and it's pretty cool that we got to do that our senior year."
Said Reese: "I think it was our time. They won the past two years, and I think we were just a little bit better of a team this year."
Beating a team four times is "always hard to do in a season ... ," Grupe said. "I think they just didn't match up well with us this year. They didn't have answers for some of our hitters, and we took care of it."