There's something to be said for going out and playing a sport with a carefree, but still competitive, attitude against unfamiliar foes in an out-of-town setting.
Paul Laurence Dunbar's volleyball team had that opportunity a couple of weeks ago when it traveled to Nashville for the Brentwood Academy Invitational. The Bulldogs played well, winning six of eight matches against teams from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan said it was just what her players needed to ease the grind of the regular season.
"It was a chance for the girls to not have to worry about playing teams they usually see. They got to go down there and represent Dunbar without people knowing Dunbar, and without a whole lot of pressure.
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"We responded real well to that, and brought some of those good things back to Lexington with us."
Dunbar showed some of those good things Thursday night when it hosted Lexington Catholic in the seventh annual Cancer Classic. Wearing pink jerseys for the fund-raiser, the hosts won 25-10, 25-12, 23-25, 25-10 for their ninth victory in their last 12 matches.
"When we went to Nashville and played teams we'd never seen before, we played our hearts out to prove ourselves," said Rachel Brown, a junior middle hitter. "We've been able to bring that intensity back to Lexington."
Brown is one of several veterans back from last year's 30-8 team. The experienced players also include seniors Hope Gassett (libero), Alyssa Gatewood (setter), Alyson Hatfield (middle hitter), Sydney Jones, Alyssa Molden and Jenna Mulert (outside hitters), and juniors Olivia Canales (outside hitter) and Claire Huskey (defensive specialist).
Junior Mary Martin, and sophomores Leah Edmond and Katie Shunk help round out what Canales called a "perfect mix" of veterans young players.
Brown noted Dunbar's "great chemistry. There's no drama with us. That's one of our strong points. Even if something happens outside the court, we still play as a team on the court."
Canales, one of the best finishers in town, has seen Dunbar make steady progress this season, "especially in blocking and digging, and in working together and communicating as a team."
The Bulldogs have given Morgan plenty of reasons to be encouraged. Topping the list was a stirring five-set victory over three-time defending region champ Henry Clay. They also showed grit in five-set losses to top 10 teams Ryle and St. Henry.
Morgan even took positives from the Bulldogs 25-16, 25-14 loss to perennial state champ Assumption. "Comments made by (Rockets Coach Ron Kordes) were good for us to hear," she said.
Canales said the key to Dunbar making a run at the district and region titles is to "hold ourselves to the higher standard we set in Nashville. We can't ever fall below that."
Lexington Catholic, under first-year coach Ashley Federele, showed improvement in last night's match.
After the Knights lost the first two sets in lopsided fashion, they outscored Dunbar 10-3 to close out the third set. Seniors Olivia Carter, Catherine Young and Samantha Thomas, and junior Abby James sparked Lexington Catholic.