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Assumption attempts to defend state volleyball title this weekend; Henry Clay seeks to make history

By Chad Hensley
KyForward sports reporter

Is this the year that a public school wins the KHSAA state volleyball championship? Or will Louisville Assumption successfully defend its state title?

Those are two questions currently being asked, and on Saturday night an answer will be given when the KHSAA crowns its 42nd state champion.

Assumption is the epitome of a championship-caliber program and is always loaded with NCAA Division I talent. The Rockets own a state-record 22 championships and are 22-1 in finals appearances.

The only school that can lay claim to having defeated Assumption in the state finals is Notre Dame Academy, which won the 1988 title in three sets (8-15, 15-11, 15-9) when the sport was still using sideout scoring.

Henry Clay volleyball players pose after winning the 11th Region championship. (Photo from HCHS Twitter)

No public school has ever won a KHSAA state championship in volleyball. Greenwood was the first public school to break through and make it to the 2011 finals, where the Lady Gators were handily defeated by Assumption by scores of 25-13, 25-8.

It wasn’t until Henry Clay made it to the finals in 2016 that a public school won a set in the title match, when the Blue Devils lost to Sacred Heart, 25-19, 25-13, 19-25, 25-19.

Henry Clay is back in the state tournament and features 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter Abby Shadwick, who has 247 kills in 63 sets. Shadwick was named the KVCA Miss Kentucky Volleyball and was also selected the 11th Region Player of the Year the previous week.

Henry Clay’s Dale Grupe was recently named the KVCA Coach of the Year after winning the 11th Region Coach of the Year honor.

Kentucky is already one round into the state tournament, with the Sweet 16 having taken place this past Monday at home sites. For the first time since 2011, the state finals will not be played at Valley High School in Louisville.

The 2020 tournament was scheduled to be played at Valley, but it was recently moved to George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester to arguably the most impressive facility the tournament has ever been played in.

Here are the matchups in the order in which they appear in the bracket rather than the order the quarterfinal matchups are scheduled to begin.

Quarterfinal 1 – Assumption (16-2) versus Mercy (19-2) at 12:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6

The Rockets’ path to yet another state title will be tested early as they face off against archrival Mercy, who the Rockets have defeated in the last three state finals.

Many will contend that this matchup, which is between the top two teams in the state, should only happen in the finals. The beauty of the blind draw that places teams in the bracket is that it can lead to programs making it further than they ever did before, thus drawing more interest in their program and eventually leading to better competition for everyone involved.

Henry Clay’s Emma Shadwick (2) has 180 kills and 41 blocks this season. (Photo from HCHS Twitter)

Assumption head coach Ron Kordes has not only won 22 state titles, but he has also led his program to numerous national championships.

The Rockets have owned the series with the Jaguars in recent years, having built a 14-match win streak until the opening contest of the season, which Mercy won in five sets (19-25, 25-23, 25-27, 25-23, 18-16).

Fans can expect to see yet another competitive match between the two schools.

Assumption is led offensively by Sydney Helmers with 261 kills and is averaging 4.83 kills per set. Helmers, a 6-foot-3 sophomore outside hitter, was named KVCA first team all-state and was joined by teammate Jenny Wessling, who made second team all-state.

Wessling, a 5-foot-7 senior defensive specialist, has verbally committed to High Point University and leads the team with 167 digs.

If the Jaguars are to break through and defeat the Rockets, they will need to do so behind the play of Elena Scott, who has verbally committed to the University of Louisville.

Scott, a 5-foot-9 first team all-state setter, has dished out 186 assists and hauled in 185 digs in a two-setter rotation that Mercy employs. Fallan Lanham leads the Jaguars in kills with 190 for a 3.73 kills per set average in 51 sets this season and has knabbed 214 digs.

Senior defensive specialist Eleanor Beavin was named the KVCA Defensive Player of the Year after scooping up 384 digs for the Jaguars.

Mercy is known for its effective serving and has recorded 210 aces this season.

Quarterfinal 2 – Henry Clay (21-3) versus Greenwood (12-6) at 4 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6

Greenwood entered the last week of the regular season sporting just a 4-6 record, but Allen Whittinghill’s Lady Gators were able right the sinking ship and sail into a quarterfinal matchup against Henry Clay.

The quarterfinal matchup will mark the second time the two squads have faced off after Henry Clay won the previous meeting 25-15, 25-15 in the prestigious Louisville Volleyball Invitation Tournament on Sept. 12.

Of Greenwood’s six losses, four are to teams playing in this weekend’s tournament with Assumption, West Jessamine and McCracken County rounding out that list.

Abby Shadwick

Katie Howard leads the way for Whittinghill’s squad offensively. The 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter has been credited with a team-leading 231 kills in 54 sets and is second on the team in digs with 153.

Olivia Overmohle is the other target for setter Meg Gore. Overmohle has collected 161 kills and Gore has dished out 397 assists.

If there has ever been a season for a public school to break out of the private school stranglehold on state championships, Henry Clay would stand the best chance to do so.

Grupe’s crew has just three losses this season, two of those to Assumption and another to Notre Dame.

Assumption won the first meeting 29-27, 25-16 in the LVIT, but Henry Clay took the Rockets to the wire just four days later in a battle that would be worthy of a state title match. Assumption pulled out a 25-15, 25-20, 22-25, 21-25, 16-14 win in that contest.

Henry Clay, however, did defeat Sacred Heart Academy 25-15, 15-25, 24-26, 25-20, 15-8 on Oct. 8.

The Blue Devils are led by the Shadwick twins, Abby and Emma, who have committed to Colgate University and Yale University, respectively. Abby Shadwick has collected 247 kills, 161 digs, 22 blocks and 41 service aces while Emma has complimented Abby nicely with 180 kills, 158 digs, 41 blocks and 14 service aces.

Ellery Gray is the commander on the court for Grupe and runs a tight offense from her setter position where she has dished up 579 of the team’s 756 assists.

Henry Clay’s roster on the KHSAA/Riherd’s Scoreboard has nine seniors, so if the Blue Devils are going to win it all, this will have to be the year to do so.

Quarterfinal 3 – Notre Dame Academy (23-3) versus McCracken County (22-4) at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6

The nightcap of the quarterfinal action will be a rematch from Sept. 26, when Notre Dame defeated McCracken County in straight sets (25-18, 25-11, 25-15) in a contest played at Elizabethtown High School.

Notre Dame’s Cate Scheper (1) attacks against Ryle in the 9th Region championship match. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Notre Dame has won the state championship eight times, but the Pandas have not claimed the title since 1994, when they defeated Mercy Academy by scores of 12-15, 15-8, 15-13.

Notre Dame can stake claim to winning the first state volleyball championship in 1979, when the Pandas defeated Our Lady of Providence. OLP would later consolidate with Newport Catholic to form Newport Central Catholic High School.

NDA has built such a powerful program in Northern Kentucky that when the varsity had to be quarantined for two weeks, including the 35th District tournament, head coach Molly McDermott called up her junior varsity team to play against Holmes in the opener and the Covington Holy Cross in the finals.

The NDA JV team hardly broke a sweat against Holmes in a 25-5, 25-9, 25-5 route before taking down Holy Cross in four sets (25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 25-17).

The varsity Pandas returned to action in time for the 9th Region tournament where they dropped just one set in the three matches with the lone set loss being to Ryle High School in the finals.

NDA has five players with more than 100 kills, and the Pandas are led by Anna Long’s 328 terminations. Long, a 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter, has added 36 blocks, 178 digs and 28 services aces to her impressive kill total.

Emily Bentley, a junior setter, has directed the NDA offense with 830 assists this season.

McCracken County head coach Tim Whitis can be considered the Ron Kordes of Western Kentucky high school volleyball.

Whitis has been the only volleyball coach that the Lady Mustangs have ever known since the school was formed prior to the 2013 season when Lone Oak, Reidland and Heath consolidated.

A Whitis-led team has won 146 consecutive matches against their fellow 1st Region foes including all 104 at McCracken County. The last time that Whitis lost to a 1st Region opponent was in the 2009 region final when he was the head coach at Lone Oak against Marshall County.

Notre Dame Academy has won eight state championships on the volleyball court, but the Pandas are looking for their first title since 1994. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Since that fateful lose in the region finals in 2009, Whitis has won 11 consecutive 1st Region titles with three at Lone Oak and eight at McCracken County.

Jayda Harris is a true front-row player as the 6-foot-2 middle blocker leads the team in kills (237) and blocks (50). Harris is one of five Lady Mustangs to collect more than 100 kills. Piper Mullinax is the floor general for McCracken. Mullinax, a sophomore setter, has recorded 739 assists, 133 digs and 70 aces.

Quarterfinal 4 – Russell (20-2) versus West Jessamine (18-8) at 9 a.m., Friday, Nov. 6

The opening match of the state quarterfinals will pit a Central Kentucky squad in West Jessamine against Russell, which is in Greenup County and along the Ohio River near Ashland.

Russell is the only program of the eight to make it to the quarterfinals that did not make it to state last season. The Red Devils’ last trip to the state tournament was in 2012, when they lost to Henry Clay in the first round.

The Red Devils will be the least battle tested of the quarterfinal teams as they have played just four matches outside of the 16th Region, which is not known for producing top-tier volleyball talent in the state.

Head coach Tiffany Perry runs a two-setter system with Emily Ruggles and Sadie Hill. Ruggles has dished out 217 assists to go along with 142 digs and 28 aces while Hill leads the pair in assists (336) and aces (68) to compliment 133 digs.

McKenna Barfield leads the team in kills (245) and blocks (87) as a senior middle hitter.

West Jessamine may not have the best record in the field, but the Colts played a strong schedule both inside and out of the 12th Region. West Jessamine has played four matches against teams that won their respective region with wins over McCracken County, Corbin and Greenwood with the lone loss being to McCracken County.

The Colts have three hitters with at least 195 kills with Emily Krintz leading the way at 250 kills. Ava Gdovka and Brooke Hager have 195 kills each with Hager leading the team in blocks with 128.

The Colts front line has combined for 430 blocks this season. Russell will need to figure out a way to either sneak around the wall or try to bulldoze its way through.

If a ball does get past the West Jessamine front, Syndey Collins (499), Gdovka (374) and Krintz (354) will be called upon to scoop up anything from hitting the floor as that trio has led the team in digs all season.

West Jessamine is another program that utilizes the two-setter system as Olivia McKibben leads the way with 444 assists and is followed by Annabella Pendelli’s 310 assists.

The semifinals are Saturday morning and will be followed by the state championship match that evening at 7:30 p.m.

Fans that can’t make it to George Rogers Clark High School this weekend are encouraged to tune into each contest on the NFHS Network. There is a monthly subscription that will need to be paid, but that fee includes all seven matches of the state volleyball tournament.

Live stats will also be provided with links below. Click on the individual match for the live stats for that particular contest.

Monday’s first-round results
Assumption defeated Daviess County (25-9, 25-10, 25-9)
Mercy defeated Elizabethtown (25-8, 25-9, 25-17)
Henry Clay defeated Corbin (25-7, 25-5, 25-7)
Greenwood defeated North Oldham (22-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-14)
Notre Dame defeated Wolfe County (25-11, 25-10, 25-10)
McCracken County defeated Caldwell County (16-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-19)
Russell defeated Paintsville (25-21, 25-20, 25-19)
West Jessamine defeated Scott (25-23, 25-14, 25-16)

Friday’s quarterfinals
Russell versus West Jessamine, 9 a.m.
Assumption versus Mercy, 12:30 p.m.
Henry Clay versus Greenwood, 4 p.m.
Notre Dame versus McCracken County, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s semifinals
Assumption/Mercy winner versus Henry Clay/Greenwood winner, 9 a.m.
Notre Dame/McCracken County winner versus Russell/West Jessamine winner, 12:30 p.m.

Saturday’s state championship
Semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m.

To access the entire list of players that made the KVCA first, second or honorable mention team as well as a list of players and coaches to win the top spot in their respective region, click here.

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