Paul Laurence Dunbar won the 11th Region volleyball championship Thursday night, and the players celebrated accordingly. They screamed with delight, bear-hugged one another and mugged for the cameras with their student-body buddies.
But Dunbar's players and coaches also took time to seek out and console Tates Creek senior star Kendall Beerman on what was a heartbreaking night for her.
Dunbar, rated No. 7 in the state, beat No. 5 Tates Creek 25-23, 15-25, 25-12, 25-7 to take the region title for the first time since 2009.
The Bulldogs will play the 5th Region champ (Bethlehem or Green County) Nov. 7 in the first round of the state tournament at Valley High School in Louisville.
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The 11th Region final was expected to be a battle. Tates Creek had beaten Dunbar twice in five sets this season, including a thriller in the district finals last week.
Dunbar pulled out a narrow victory in the first set Thursday night, but Tates Creek dominated the second. Beerman delivered the winning kill — her 11th point in that set — but she crumpled to the floor when she landed awkwardly on her left knee.
The crowd at Henry Clay fell quiet as Beerman was helped off the court. She was done for the night.
"Initially, I thought I'd be OK and get back out there," she said. "But then I realized how much it was hurting."
Without the 6-foot-2 Beerman, an Indiana University signee, Tates Creek was overmatched. Micaela Magsig, Julia Loveday, Doris Carter and Macy Reihing tried to pick up the slack. The Commodores stayed close early in the third set before Dunbar took control and wound up winning the match easily.
The Bulldogs' Division I prospects, senior Olivia Canales (Texas Christian) and junior Leah Edmond (University of Kentucky), were too much at the net for Tates Creek. Dunbar's Rachel Brown, Mary Martin, Asia Henderson, Katie Shunk and Francesca Macchiavello took turns making key plays.
Bulldogs Coach Jenni Morgan said it was difficult for everybody when Beerman was injured.
"Knowing our girls' relationships with her, it affected them, too," Morgan said. "They kept watching to see if she was OK and if she was coming back out.
"Kendall's a great player and has carried her team this entire season, and to watch that happen, no coach wishes that upon anybody."
Canales' happiness with winning the region was tempered by her feelings for Beerman. "I'm thrilled we're moving on to the state, but you want to win playing the other team at their best.
"Kendall's one of my best friends, and I was really sorry she couldn't play."
Dunbar earned its victory with season-long dedication,
"This is something we've dreamed about since July 15 when we first stepped on the court," senior Claire Huskey said. "This was our common goal. It's what held us together. Knowing all our hard work paid off feels so good."
Morgan said the Bulldogs' success "all comes back to senior leadership. We have great senior leaders."
Tates Creek Coach Sara Chaffin couldn't hold back tears after the match. She felt for Beerman and her team. When Beerman gave her one last hug, Beerman told her she was sorry she got hurt.
"God love her," Chaffin said. "I told her I was sorry this happened her senior year. It's just so hard, but she's got a wonderful career ahead of her."
Beerman's injury isn't serious. "It's not torn, I'll be OK," she said.
Chaffin credited her other players for giving it their best in Beerman's absence.
"They really, really tried, but it was all too mental for them. They're used to having Kendall out there. She's always on the court."