Using a balanced attack and the timely playmaking that defined its season, the Assumption High School volleyball team held off a feisty young Mercy squad to win the KHSAA state volleyball championship in a thrilling five-set final at Valleyâ€™s J.C. Cantrell Gymnasium on Oct. 27.
â€œThis is the way weâ€™ve been going all year long,â€ said Rockets coach Ron Kordes, whose side was inconsistent, but prevailed 25-21, 20-25, 25-18, 15-25, 15-10, to earn a third consecutive title and 17th overall. â€œItâ€™s either feast or famine.â€
Top-ranked Assumption (41-2) dispatched Henderson County, No. 10 Lone Oak and No. 7 Henry Clay to reach the final, while No. 4 Mercy (33-10) downed No. 21 Southwestern, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 11 North Oldham.
With a starting lineup that included only one senior, Mercy took an 18-14 lead in the first set and quickly shattered the air of inevitability that permeates most matches featuring Assumption, a team ranked third in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.
The Rockets responded by scoring eight of the next nine points â€“ including two kills apiece by Alyssa Cavanaugh and Hannah Moore â€“ to take a 22-19 edge and went on to win 25-21.
In the second set, Mercyâ€™s Courtney Crable caught fire, recording seven kills and an ace. The Jaguars also got a boost from sophomore Devon Rachel, who notched three kills and a pair of blocks to put her side up 24-20, before Crable finished the set with one of her match-high 25 kills.
â€œOur hearts werenâ€™t fatigued and we just kept fighting,â€ said Mercy Coach Todd Garvey, whose team had gone to five sets with Notre Dame earlier in the day.
After splitting the next two sets, Assumption took a 10-5 lead in the fifth.
â€œWe all decided to bring it togetherâ€¦ and play our real game,â€ said Cavanaugh, who finished with 13 kills.
After a Crable slam narrowed the gap to 13-10, Assumptionâ€™s Hannah Moore closed the match with two straight kills.
â€œ(Mercy) played a phenomenal match andâ€¦ we knew we had to fight,â€ said Taylor Paulson, who led Assumption with 17 kills out of the middle. Paulson and fellow seniors London Ackerman (28 digs) and Kaelin Grimes (13 digs) compiled a gaudy 121-7 record over their final three seasons, including three titles in a row.
Rounding out the offensive production for the Rockets were Moore with 14 kills and Miranda Elpers with 10.
Devon Rachel and Ashley Jefferson finished with seven kills apiece for Mercy and setter Morgan Elmore tallied 43 assists.
Assumption setter Alexa Filley was named tournament MVP after recording 41 assists and 17 digs in the final.
Katherine English piled up 22 goals in her senior season at Sacred Heart, but none was bigger than the near-post smash in overtime that lifted the Valkyries to a 1-0 win over arch-rival Assumption in the state championship game at Bellarmineâ€™s Frazier Stadium on Oct. 24.
Englishâ€™s sudden-victory goal came with 1:25 to play in OT on the Valkyriesâ€™ 27th penalty corner.
â€œI thought if we had a good push out, Iâ€™d try near post even though itâ€™s a harder angle,â€ said English. â€œIt just slipped right through the post and the goalieâ€™s foot.â€
Sacred Heart (24-1-1) carried play for large parts of match, outshooting Assumption 18-9 and conceding only nine corners.
Assumption goalkeeper Sara Nicolas recorded 14 saves, including a diving stop to her right to deny an Allison Corley attempt with 5:33 to play in the first half and a spectacular sliding 1-on-1 save against speedy Hadleigh Frank with 2:05 left in regulation.
â€œTheir goalie was excellent and their defense was really good,â€ said Valkyries coach Liz Lewis. â€œI thought that it would be a one-goal game.â€
Caroline Fowler had 13 saves for Sacred Heart and maintained a clean sheet for the tournament, including shutouts against Kentucky Country Day, 4-0, and defending champion Manual, 6-0.
Assumption cruised past Mercy 4-0 and Ballard 3-0 to reach the final.
â€œIâ€™m just very proud of my girls,â€ said Assumption coach Debbie Judd. â€œYou get that many corners on you and you stop all of them except (one). Thatâ€™s amazing.â€
Sacred Heart beat Assumption twice during the regular season and English said the matchup never disappointed.
â€œItâ€™s always hard to play Assumption because theyâ€™re our rival and thereâ€™s so much emotion in the game, but weâ€™ve worked so hard for it and weâ€™ve been through so much,â€ she said.
â€œThis is the perfect end to my senior year.â€
No. 1 St. Xavier smoked Corbin 7-0 in a state tournament quarterfinal and will face No. 23 Boone County (20-3-3) in a 6 p.m. semifinal Thursday at Paul Dunbar. The Tigers (25-0-2) are seeking a second straight crown and fifth in six years.
No. 2 Paul Dunbar (24-3) takes on No. 10 Henderson County (20-3-2) at 8 p.m. in the other semifinal. The championship game is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday at Dunbar.
In girlsâ€™ action, No. 4 Assumption fell to No. 12 Elizabethtown 1-0 in quarterfinal play last Saturday at Lafayette. The Rockets finished their season at 19-4-4.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.