FRANKFORT — A four-peat. With feeling.
Henry Clay won its fourth 11th Region volleyball title in a row by beating Paul Laurence Dunbar 3-1 at Western Hills on Thursday night.
A stunning comeback in the second game was the key to the 10th-ranked Blue Devils' 25-16, 25-21, 24-26, 25-19 victory over No. 6 Dunbar.
Henry Clay trailed 17-9 in the second game before Ca'Layci Coffey and Hallie Shelton rallied the Devils.
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"That counts as one of the best comebacks in this region in a long time," Coach Dale Grupe said. "We deserved this tonight just based on that one game.
"I kept jumping up and down acting like I was doing something, but the girls were the ones doing it all."
Henry Clay's players also had extra inspiration.
They dedicated the finals to Grupe's wife, assistant coach Kathy Grupe. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, had surgery in August and is now undergoing chemotherapy.
She wasn't able to make it to the title match, so the players wore "Kathy's Grupes" T-shirts in warm-ups.
"She motivated us even though she wasn't here," Shelton said. "She was a big deal for us to win tonight. We dedicated this to her."
Haley Longworth, who turned in a steallar defensive performance at libero, agreed. "Playing for her was important because we know she really wanted to be here."
Henry Clay almost had another improbable comeback in the third game after Dunbar, led by Rachel Brown, Leah Edmond, Olivia Canales and Alyson Hatfield, rolled to a 24-18 lead.
The Devils scored the next six points, thanks in part to Brittany Ragland's effective serves, to tie it at 24. Dunbar pulled out a 26-24 victory, but Henry Clay had siezed the momentum.
"After we lost that game, we didn't have our heads down or anything," Longworth said. "We kept our heads up and brought a lot of energy."
Grupe had a simple message for his team: "Just give a postive effort and positive attitude, and we'll take what comes."
The Devils, with Elle Barnett, Olivia Dixon and setter Lynsey Short leading the way, never trailed in the fourth game as they eliminated Dunbar from the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Bulldogs Coach Jenni Morgan agreed that the second game was pivotal.
"The girls really fought, but we made a lot of unforced errors," she said.
And Henry Clay seemed to come up with clutch plays all night. "They got the big momentum swings and the crucial points. We didn't," Morgan said. "Henry Clay played a great game."
Grupe praised Dunbar's never-quit attitude.
"They've had a tough road with some injuries, but they came out and fought hard," he said. "We knew they'd keep coming at us."
Grupe, in his 20th year as Henry Clay coach, has led the Devils to 13 region titles.
Henry Clay (30-9) will play 15th Region champ Allen Central (33-6) in the first round of the 16-team state tournament Nov. 8 at Valley High School in Louisville.