October traditions: pumpkins on porches and Henry Clay in the 11th Region volleyball finals.
Coach Dale Grupe's Blue Devils beat Lexington Christian Academy 25-9, 25-18 in the region semifinals Wednesday night to earn a spot in the finals for the 12th time in 14 years, including the last six.
Host Henry Clay, rated sixth in the state, will face No. 16 Lafayette in Thursday's finals. The Generals swept Lexington Catholic 25-17, 25-13 in their semifinal.
Lafayette, which lost to Henry Clay in last week's 43rd District finals, hasn't beaten the Devils since the 2006 region title match.
What will it take for the Generals to pull the upset and deny Henry Clay a return trip to the state tournament?
"It'll take a team believing it can play with anybody, and a team playing within itself," Coach Chris Langston said. "In the (district finals) we tried to do crazy things, things I'd never even seen us do in practice. We've got to play the way we should play."
Lafayette did that against Lexington Catholic. It spotted the Knights early leads in both sets, but then took over thanks to a group effort.
Sarah Jenkins and Emily Kincaid dominated at the net. Annie King set them up. Chandler Kinley was all over the court making digs. King, Jackie Britt, Brittany Smith and Courtney Wright contributed with defense and serves.
Kinley, a sophomore libero, said it will take a similar team effort to beat Henry Clay, and Lafayette will use the underdog role to its advantage.
"We know we can improve and show people who we actually are," she said.
Lexington Catholic Coach Mark McCloskey liked the way his team played early — led by Lyndsay Young and Samantha Thomas — before breakdowns came.
"We had execution problems," he said. "We served well and put ourselves in a place where we could score some points, but just made too many errors."
Henry Clay cruised to a lopsided first-set win over LCA, then found itself in a dogfight with Teresa Ford's team in the second. The Eagles' Emily Terry, Alli Evans, and Jennifer Evans helped them force a 17-17 tie.
But the Devils, led by veterans Emily McClendon, Jordan Strickland and Emily Stromberg, sparked a closing 8-1 run that won the match.
McClendon, a junior middle blocker, said there was "a little concern" in the tight second set, "but we kept fighting and figured each other out."
Grupe was worried. "Especially this time of the year when it's do or die," he said. "You never know how kids are going to react.
"LCA came out and took it to us that second game, but we started playing stronger and better at the end."
The Devils now go for their seventh region title since 1998, with Lafayette standing in their way.
"We expect a good challenge from them," McClendon said. "They've got a good team. We know we've got to fight and have fun."
Grupe called the Generals "a dangerous team" because it has a few scores to settle: Henry Clay has beaten Lafayette 10 times in a row over the last five years.