By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
MCKEE—The team that wasn’t supposed to be here proved the belonged. South Laurel, with just one senior in the lineup, fell in four competitive sets to Whitley County in the 13th Region finals (25-18, 25-20, 19-25, 25-18).
“We knew this was going to be a rebuilding year and nobody, us included in the beginning with our record, thought we would be where we are right now,” South Laurel coach Mitzi Jones said.
The Lady Colonels 32 wins this season were more than twice as many as South Laurel. Whitley County had as many wins on September 17 as the Lady Cardinals would have when their season ended Tuesday.
“They did belong here and I’m very proud of them,” Jones said.
South Laurel led much of the first set, including the first four points behind the net play of Savannah Baxter and Katelyn Spicer. If the Lady Cardinals were affected by the magnitude of the game or by a crowd unusually loud for volleyball it did not show.
“I knew the crowd would mess with them a little bit. We talked about it on the bus that mental toughness is what would win this game,” Jones said.
Whitley County recovered to tie the game at 5-5. South Laurel would score the next four points to regain momentum. The Lady Cardinals continued to turn back Whitley County rallies as they held a 17-13 lead. A couple of misplayed balls allowed Whitley County to tie the game. The Lady Colonels ended the set on a 12-1 run with five of the points coming on kills that South Laurel hit out of bounds.
“We told them there was no pressure. We knew we would make errors. That’s part of it,” Jones said.
Whitley County led almost the entire second set, but could not put the Lady Cardinals away. When Spicer made a block and later followed it with a kill the score was tied 13-13.
The Lady Colonels pushed the lead back to five points with a couple of close calls. A kill by Whitley County’s Taylor Dingess hit on the line. A high return by the Lady Colonels fell just across the net where neither team could make a play, but it fell on the South Laurel side.
South Laurel was within 21-20 when the Lady Colonels again closed the set strong, beginning with a block by Becky Miller. South Laurel was called for touching the net and a kill landed in the net. The final return sailed out of bounds to give Whitley County a 2-0 lead. Jones said she knew her team wasn’t done yet.
“I saw it in their eyes. They weren’t ready to quit,” Jones said.
The Lady Cardinals broke away from a 10-10 tie with five straight points beginning with a kill by Baxter. Katie Reynolds followed with a block and a kill. Whitley County helped the cause with a net call and a kill into the net.
After a Whitley County point, the Lady Cardinals scored the next four with Baxter serving a pair of aces. Whitley County would get as close as 20-17 before South Laurel closed out the match.
“They battled. They didn’t give up,” Jones said.
There were three ties in the fourth set with the last coming at 11-11. Whitley County took the lead 12-11 on a tip by Caylin Louthan despite South Laurel players diving desperately to make saves. The Lady Colonels would lead the rest of the match.
South Laurel was still within three points at 20-17 when Dingess scored on a kill. Briana Maynes followed with an ace, which she did often at the serve.
“She jump serves and for some reason even if it’s not harder than other serves I think it catches them off guard a little bit,” Jones said.
Chelsea Bozeman’s kill pushed the Whitley County lead to 23-17, but South Laurel still was not done. Even on the final point the Lady Cardinals were blocking at the net and making all-out dives on the floor.
As Whitley County celebrated the final point, the tears started on the South Laurel sideline for the end of a season that lasted longer than expected.
“I know they are upset, but they have nothing to be upset about,” Jones said.
And the coach immediately started thinking about next year.
“We’re not there yet. We’ve still got a lot of growth,” Jones said. “I’m very excited about starting the season next year. I know this season is just over, but I’m very excited about the future.”