High School Sports

Dunbar bounces back to beat Tates Creek for district volleyball title

Parents and friends of Paul Laurence Dunbar's volleyball players brought blown-up head-shot photos of the Bulldogs and displayed them in the stands during the 43rd District tournament at Lafayette this week.

After Dunbar rallied past Tates Creek 20-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-16 in Thursday's title match, Bulldogs' fans can picture their favorite team as district champions.

"It's really amazing," Dunbar senior hitter Gabbi Thatcher said. "We've got a great feeling about all this. We're ready for the region."

No. 9 Dunbar (29-7) and No. 14 Tates Creek (28-7) advance to the 11th Region tournament at Madison Southern next week.

Three out of the four games in the finals had what qualified as a photo finish.

Tates Creek won the opener behind the play of Kendall Beerman, Michaela Carter, Bailey Skaggs and Danielle Merryman. The Commodores kept the momentum as they bolted to a 20-14 lead in the second game.

Dunbar knew it was in dire straits at that point.

"We realized we were playing individually, not as a team, and that we needed to figure it out and pull it together," Thatcher said.

Junior setter Alyssa Gatewood saw it the same way.

"Volleyball is a mental game, too" she said. "We had to start playing for our teammates. We knew all we had to do was play defense and pass, and that everything else would fall into place."

It did.

Dunbar went on an 11-0 run to finish off Tates Creek in the second game, and the Bulldogs didn't look back as they led most of the way in taking the last two games.

Gatewood finished with 33 assists. Thatcher and Alyson Hatfield had 11 kills each. Olivia Canales, Joia Pollard and Jenna Mulert delivered big hits, too. Hope Gassett, playing libero, made plays all over the court. Becca Williams and Keeli Abney made key digs.

"A team effort, completely," said Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan, who saw her players' attitudes change when they fell behind in the second game.

"They kind of felt their backs were against the wall and they had to respond.

"I thought they were playing a little tight up until then. But then they relaxed and turned things around."

Tates Creek, which split a pair of regular-season matches with Dunbar, was led by Beerman's 24 kills and Merryman's 32 assists.

But the Commodores couldn't regain the momentum once they lost it in the second game.

"Unfortunately, we just had a breakdown and never recovered," Coach Sara Chaffin said. "A couple of calls didn't go our way, but I told the girls they can't let that affect them. But they didn't bounce out of it.

"Give Dunbar credit. They really turned it up in game two, and we just couldn't recover."