By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It wasn’t a win, but it was a challenge answered by North Laurel. Facing a Whitley County team with the best record in the 13th Region, the Lady Jaguars lost 3-1. They also battled through two close sets that could have gone either way.
“I’m super proud of them. We knew coming in here they were No. 1 in the region,” North Laurel coach Haley Ratliff said.
North Laurel has typically been a slow starting team that sometimes struggles in the first set. Monday they charged out of the gate and took the first set from the Lady Colonels 25-18. The middle sets were back and forth wins for Whitley County 27-25 and 26-24. The Lady Colonels controlled the final set 25-11.
“I thought we came in and played well. We played hard the first three matches. The last match we were just too tired, mentally weak and we just folded,” Ratliff said.
The first set was tight throughout with North Laurel holding a slight 19-17 edge before two straight points for the Lady Jaguars opened some breathing room. Even when the Lady Jaguars lost points, Ratliff continued to encourage the effort.
“This is probably the hardest I have ever seen our team play. I could tell it hurts (to lose) and that’s how I want them to feel after every game,” Ratliff said.
North Laurel scored the last four points of the set, including two on kills by Kelsey Hacker. On one series, Hacker blocked a Whitley County shot and then finished the point with a kill.
There were nine ties in the second set with both teams also putting together strong runs. Whitley County led 14-11 before North Laurel reeled off six straight points. The Lady Jaguars run was led by net play from Miranda Browning and Marsha Boggs.
“With Miranda Browning up there she gets a lot of blocks. She gets a lot of the kills, her and Marsha up there together are kind of a duo,” Ratliff said.
Whitley County rallied when Briana Maynes stepped to the serve. A run of six straight Whitley County points included a pair of aces.
“She is a great server, jumper serves that drop right in front of your player,” Ratliff said.
The Lady Colonels were in good shape with a 23-18 lead before North Laurel scored six straight to regain the lead 24-23. North Laurel had match point before a player was called for being in the net. The score was tied again at 25-25 when North Laurel got a tough break. A set clipped the edge of the raised basketball goal and could not be played. Whitley County ended the set with a kill.
“We came out pretty strong and then we just kind of started letting down. Once Whitley got that second (set) win it took the momentum and the third one definitely took it,” Ratliff said.
The Lady Jaguars were cruising through the third set with a 15-7 lead. That’s when Maynes served another long point streak. Whitley County scored nine straight points to take a lead. They outscored North Laurel 14-2 to for a 21-17 lead. North Laurel would bounce back to tie the score at 24-24.
A serve for the lead sailed out and they did not return the Lady Colonels serve as the set ended 26-24.
“This past week we have struggled with serves. We’ve been hitting them in the net and hitting them out. I don’t understand,” Ratliff said. “Serves have killed us.”
The third set looked to be as close as the other with Whitley County leading 12-10. They would score the next eight points and 13 of the final 14.
The Lady Jaguars finished 2-3 in the Lady Rocket Invitational over the weekend.
“We played pretty well. We played Wayne County twice, so three of our losses are from Wayne County. We played hard and came together. I think it was another stepping stone just going up.”
The Lady Jaguars picked up wins over Lincoln County (21-19, 21-23, 15-3) and Leslie County (25-13, 25-15). The losses to Wayne County and Russell County were two-set losses.