FRANKFORT — Western Hills' gymnasium was a classroom for Paul Laurence Dunbar's volleyball team in the first round of the 11th Region tournament Tuesday night.
The lesson plan was post-season do's and don'ts. Do play hard until victory is in hand. Don't ever let up against any opponent.
Dunbar, rated No. 6 in the state, beat Scott County 3-1, but the Bulldogs had a serious lapse along the way.
After winning the first game 25-14, Dunbar led the second game 21-14 and was probably thinking of a three-game sweep.
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Scott County hadn't won a game in its last 13 matches against the Bulldogs over the last nine years. But history meant nothing to these Cardinals, who rallied to stun Dunbar 25-23 in the second game.
"That was a huge wake-up call for us," Bulldogs' senior hitter Jenna Mulert said. "We kind of slowed down in that second game. Definitely fell asleep, and we can't do that.
"It was a lesson learned."
Dunbar regrouped and beat Scott County 25-20, 25-15 in the last two games.
The Bulldogs will face Franklin County in Wednesday's semifinals. The Flyers beat Madison Central 24-26, 25-15, 25-14, 25-16 on Tuesday night.
No. 10 Henry Clay will take on Woodford County in Wednesday's other semifinal.
Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan said she has stressed to her players "that you can't stop fighting until the official blows his whistle because nobody wants it to be their last match."
Morgan knew Scott County was a worthy opponent. Dunbar beat the Bulldogs 3-0 two weeks ago, but the middle game was a 26-24 battle.
"I knew they'd take it to us again," Morgan said.
The Cards' breakthrough in the second game Tuesday night was led by sophomores Alleah Stamatis and Aubrey Hawkins. They keyed an 8-0 run that wiped out Dunbar's lead and momentum.
Dunbar kept its poise, however, and won the next two games. Did Morgan fire up her team with a heated speech in the huddle?
"Me getting angry doesn't help," she said. "I just give them little tips that might help them. My job is to strategically help them out."
But Mulert said the players know when Morgan isn't happy with them.
"She doesn't really get angry. It's kind of like a calm terror that scares us all," Mulert said with a laugh.
The Bulldogs played pretty well most of the night. Rachel Brown, Olivia Canales and Leah Edmond were effective finishers at the net. Alyssa Gatewood set them up for most of their kills. And Hope Gassett played her role as defensive leader.
Mulert and Morgan agreed that passing a tough test against Scott County was exactly what Dunbar needed as it tries to win the region for the first time since 2009.
"This was a good thing for us," Mulert said. "It woke us up mentally."
Morgan said the Bulldogs' hard-earned win over Scott County was "good preparation. You learn at this point you can't underestimate or overlook anybody."
11th Region Tournament semifinals at Western Hills
6 p.m.: Henry Clay vs. Western Hills
7:30 p.m.: Dunbar vs. Franklin County