High School Sports

11th Region Volleyball: Paul Dunbar ends Henry Clay's four-year championship run

Paul Dunbar's Leah Edmond reacted as the team celebrated a hard-earned point against Henry Clay in the second game. The Bulldogs overcame a first-game loss to defeat Henry Clay 3-1.
Paul Dunbar's Leah Edmond reacted as the team celebrated a hard-earned point against Henry Clay in the second game. The Bulldogs overcame a first-game loss to defeat Henry Clay 3-1. Herald-Leader

Paul Laurence Dunbar's volleyball team conducts pre-match and post-match rituals designed to strengthen its mental toughness.

So what's going on behind those closed locker room doors?

"It's a secret," Bulldogs senior Olivia Canales said with a smile. "It's a private thing, so I don't want to tell. But it seems to be working."

Indeed.

Canales was speaking after Dunbar knocked off host Henry Clay in a showdown of top 10 teams in the opening match of the 11th Region tournament Monday night.

The No. 7 Bulldogs lost the first set 25-21, but they swept the next three games 25-21, 26-24, 25-20 to end No. 6 Henry Clay's four-year reign as region champion.

It was a sweet victory for Dunbar, which had been eliminated in the post-season by the Blue Devils the previous four years.

"We all had it in our mindset we were not going to lose tonight," Canales said.

Dunbar, chasing its first region title since 2009, advances to play Woodford County in Wednesday's semifinals. The Yellowjackets beat Madison Southern 25-19, 20-25, 25-18, 25-20 in Monday night's second match.

Canales did her part in taking down Henry Clay. After registering only a couple of kills in the first set, she had 24 over the last three.

"Olivia came out in the second, third and fourth sets and swung away," Dunbar Coach Jenni Morgan said. "She mixed up her shots really well."

Canales, who has signed with TCU, grudgingly admitted "it was one of my better games.

"But I give all the credit to my defense, and my setter Mary (Martin)."

Dunbar junior Leah Edmond, who's committed to Kentucky, had 16 kills and was a defensive force at the net. So was sophomore Asia Henderson.

Rachel Brown, Katie Shunk and Francesca Macchiavello played key roles, too.

Henry Clay started strong. Led by Hallie Shelton, Lynsey Short, Jessica Sunnenberg, and Ca'Layci Coffey, the Devils never trailed while taking a 1-0 lead.

They were up 18-15 in the second set before Dunbar rallied to win it.

The big momentum shift came in the third set. Henry Clay was on the verge of going up 2-1 when it led 23-20, but it couldn't close the deal. Dunbar pulled it out 26-24.

"That was huge. That was the turning point," Morgan said. "That's where our mental toughness really showed."

Henderson agreed.

"We've learned that when we make mistakes, we get back up, encourage each other to do better, then we move on to the next point and get the next ball."

Dunbar stayed focused in the fourth set. After scoring four points in a row to lead 9-5, it never trailed again.

"It was a top-level match in the state," Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said. "We forced Dunbar to play really, really well, and they played really, really well. We made them earn it, so hats off to them."

Shelton, a standout sophomore, led the Devils with 20 kills.

It was the end of a stellar run by Henry Clay's seniors Short, Coffey, Alex Setzer and Hannah Adkins (who's graduating early).

"One the best group of seniors we've ever had in terms of accomplishments, attitude and leadership," Grupe said. "They won with class and lost with class, and that's all you can ask.

"The bottom line is, the journey was awesome. The last point tonight wasn't as happy, but the journey was awesome."

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