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Louisville Mercy defeats Assumption in five-set thriller; Henry Clay advances to state semifinals


By Chad Hensley
KyForward sports reporter

A new volleyball state champion in Kentucky will be crowned on Saturday night. Louisville Mercy made sure of that Friday by eliminating three-time defending state champion Assumption in a five-set thriller at Cardinal Arena on the campus of George Rogers Clark High School.

Mercy (20-2) defeated Assumption (16-3) for the second time this season in a battle of the top two programs in Kentucky after the Rockets took a 2-1 lead after the third set. The Jaguars battled back and easily took the final two sets for the 3-2 win (25-17, 23-25, 19-25, 25-15, 15-7).

Assumption’s Lydia Stephens (1) attacks against Mercy blocker Elena Scott (9) on Friday afternoon. (KHSAA photo)

Mercy was led by Fallan Lanham’s 20-kill, 10-dig performance. Lanham also collected six service aces.

Sydney Helmers collected a match-high 21 kills for Assumption. After a Helmers kill drew Assumption to within 18-15, Mercy closed out the first set with a 7-2 run thanks in large part to three attack errors by Lydia Stephens of the Rockets and a service ace each from Lanham and Kayla Mantell.

The Jaguars held Assumption to just a .048 (10-8-42) hitting percentage in the first set while attacking at a .213 clip (15-5-47) of their own.

The second set was a back-and-forth affair with Assumption finally pulling out a 25-23 win after trailing 23-22. Emily Ready recorded the kill that tied the set before two attack errors by Mercy finished the set out.

Assumption built a 10-5 lead in the third set before Mercy used a 4-0 run to get within 10-9, but the Rockets would go on a 9-1 tear for a lead they would not relinquish. Helmers collected three kills, and Caroline Cermack served up two aces during the run that was highlighted by four attack errors by Mercy.

Helmers tallied the final kill of the set for the 25-19 win as Assumption had its best attacking set going .333 with 16 kills against five errors on 33 attempts.

Assumption’s Lydia Stephens (1) attacks against Mercy blocker Chloe Newton (8) on Friday. (KHSAA photo)

Assumption led 13-12 in the fourth set, but the Rockets were left on the launchpad, scoring just two points the rest of the set and just seven the remainder of the match. A 13-2 run for the Jaguars would close out the fourth set that included Lanham serving up seven consecutive points — four of those being aces.

Down 14-4 in the fifth set, Assumption showed signs of life with a kill by Cermack and two more by Stephens, but Allison Holloway’s kill ended the match and Assumption’s reign as state champion. Holloway hit for 12 kills and was complemented by Elena Scott’s 40 assists. Eleanor Beavin and Addie Poehner led the Jaguars in digs with 21 and 15, respectively.

As a team, Mercy recorded 11 blocks and 11 aces to Assumption’s five blocks and two aces. Cermack finished with 12 kills, while Whitney Woodrow and Alyssa Eaton dished out 21 assists each for Assumption. Jenny Wessling (19), Madilyn O’Toole (13) and Emma DeSensi (10) each collected double-digit digs.

HENRY CLAY DEFEATS GREENWOOD 3-1

Led by a 15-kill performance from Abby Shadwick, Henry Clay defeated Greenwood 3-1 (25-14, 25-14, 23-25, 25-18) in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Despite Shadwick being the only attacker in double figures, Dale Grupe’s Blue Devils hit .297 for the match (46-13-111). Henry Clay held Greenwood to a .043 hitting percentage (40-34-139) despite Katie Howard leading the match with 21 kills.

Howard and the rest of her Greenwood teammates had trouble getting the ball through the front wall of the Henry Clay defense as the Blue Devils had a total of 14 blocks. Grupe, who was recently named the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, watched his team go on a 9-1 run in the first set to take a commanding 19-7 lead and the teams traded points the rest of the way before Henry Clay (22-3) finished the set with a 25-14 win.

Henry Clay’s Emma Shadwick (2) hammers an attack against Greenwood defender Katie Howard (16) on Friday in the state quarterfinals. (KHSAA photo)

Howard collected a kill to bring the Gators (12-7) to within 9-6, but Greenwood would commit seven attack errors spurred on by five blocks by Henry Clay would eventually lead to a 10-3 run for the Blue Devils to go up 19-9.

Olivia Overmohle’s consecutive aces pulled Greenwood to within 19-12, but Henry Clay finished the set on a 6-2 run that included an Abby Shadwick ace and two kills by her twin sister Emma.

Abby Shadwick has verbally committed to Colgate University while Emma Shadwick will be playing at Yale University next fall.

The third set was the epitome of a seesaw matchup with a combined seven lead changes and 13 ties.

Greenwood had its best hitting performance of the match, going .147 (13-8-34) while Henry Clay would have its worst of the match hitting just .037 (8-7-27). Howard recorded six kills in the set and was complimented by the play of setter Meg Gore as well as Emma Loiars and Overmohle on the attack.

Gore finished the match with 35 assists while Overmohle had 11 kills.

Greenwood’s 25-23 win in the third set extended the match, but Henry Clay raced out to an 11-4 lead in the fourth set and cruised the rest of the way, picking up the 25-18 win to cap the match.

Ellery Gray was the floor general for Henry Clay by dishing out 36 assists. Gray’s 11 digs completed the double-double performance for the senior setter. Emma Shadwick also collected in 11 digs and was followed closely by Emily Adkins with 10 digs.

Greenwood’s Katie Howard finished with 21 kills and 12 digs against Henry Clay on Friday. (KHSAA photo)

Paige Wagers led Henry Clay in blocks with eight. Howard had a double-double of her own for the Gators with 21 kills and 12 digs. Sydney Keown and Loiars would collect 11 digs each.

Henry Clay moves on to represent the 11th Region in the state semifinals and is attempting to become the first public high school to reach the state finals twice.

WEST JESSAMINE DEFEATS RUSSELL 3-0

An outstanding service game and key rallies lifted West Jessamine to a straight-set victory (25-20, 25-15, 25-18) over Russell in the quarterfinals of the state volleyball tournament on Friday.

It was a seesaw match throughout the first set until West Jessamine’s Ava Gdovka converted a kill to begin an 10-3 run by the Colts to go up 23-15. The run was highlighted by a trio of kills from Abi Bruner, who would finish the match hitting at a .538 clip with nine kills and two attack errors in 13 attempts.

Gdovka notched one of her match-leading 14 kills to close out the first set for a 25-20 win for West Jessamine after Russell had clawed its way back to within 24-20.

“When we started off the season,” West Jessamine head coach Bill Bird added of his team’s lone senior. “Ava was our libero, and my outside tore her ACL, so Ava stepped up and goes to the outside. She has just been lights out. She is seeing the court well, reading the blockers, is fast to the ball and is just having a phenomenal year hitting. She is just the perfect teammate.”

The second set started out with Russell (20-3) inching out to a 7-4 lead thanks to a couple of kills from McKenna Barfield and four attack errors by West Jessamine. A block by Barfield and Mallory Allen would give Russell its last lead of the second stanza at 10-9.

West Jessamine returned to its preferred service rotation after a Bruner kill tied the set at 10-10. A 16-5 run by West Jessamine (19-8) highlighted by multiple kills by Bruner, Gdovka and Emily Krintz as well as back-to-back-to-back service aces by Gdovka to close it out.

West Jessamine players and coaches celebrate following their 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 victory over Russell in the state quarterfinals on Friday. (West Jessamine photo)

Despite losing the set, Russell had the best attack percentage of the match between either team at .296 (9-1-27), but West Jessamine was able to put the ball on the floor just was effectively with a .289 percentage (17-6-38).

After back-to-back services aces by West Jessamine’s Brooke Hager put the Colts ahead 6-5 early in the third set, Russell showed some signs of life with two kills by Christin Corey and three attack errors by Gdovka to go up 10-6.

Gdovka, however, would help spur along an 8-0 run with a trio of kills to put the Colts back up 14-10.

“She is doing whatever these girls need her to do to win,” Bird said of Gdovka’s play. “I think some schools are going to miss out if they do not start giving her some looks. I think she could obviously play somewhere. As far as her serving, we work a lot on our serve and that is one of our strengths. She came through when we needed her today having had six aces. She has just been a great leader.”

Down 18-13, the Red Devils would continue to fight their way back into the match. Corey collected a kill and three services aces to get her team back to an 18-18 tie.

From there, it was all West Jessamine in the scoring column as the Colts collected a 7-0 run thanks to terrific serving by Annabella Pandelli to keep Russell on its heels defensively.

West Jessamine reeled in 15 service aces for the match against just one service error.

“That is something that is one of our strong points,” Bird lamented. “We are solid on serving and today was one of those situations and where we get the service back then we kind of fall back on that. We really stepped it up there and our errors have really dropped on the serve.

“I called a timeout right there and we brought them over and the girls kind of did most of the talking. We kind of took a deep breath and again Ava stepped up and said, ‘we’re not done.’ I think that fired them up got them focused. Olivia rotated around to serve, and I think we just kind of basically served it out. They just did not panic. They knew what to do. They settled down, got their groove back and took care of business.

“We play a tough schedule and we have been behind at various points throughout the season. We have been in that situation where we have been behind and had to play out of it to win matches, so they are kind of comfortable. They do not panic. They step back, take a deep breath, relax and depend on their fundamentals and their strengths. I think the strength of our schedule and being in those situations have attributed to us being able to pull ourselves out of situations like that.”

Krintz played strong throughout the match and quietly collected a double-double for her efforts with 13 kills and a match-best 16 digs.

West Jessamine players Keelin Ford (44), Abi Bruner (16) and Ava Gdovka (15) prepare to defend against Russell on Friday afternoon. (KHSAA photo)

“I mean that double-double, that’s kind of the norm for her,” Bird said of his junior outside hitter. “Emily is one of those girls that I could run anywhere that I needed to. She is just so athletic and sees the floor. She has got that volleyball IQ that you look for in a player. She can play any position like Ava. She sees the blocks and open spots.

“Early in the season, I kind of got on her for pushing and tipping too much but now she is just wanting to hammer the ball everywhere. She can hammer it from three feet out or she is just as comfortable from 15 feet away. She is just an excellent athlete. I have got two or three others like her that are just great leaders just like Syndey Collins, our libero. Emily is just playing great and really starting to peak right now.”

Annabella Pandelli and McKibben dished out 20 and 16 assists, respectively, for the Colts while Sadie Hill hauled in 24 assists for the Red Devils. Barfield led Russell with 10 kills, but the Red Devils were able to just hit at a .163 pace (29-14-92) for the match while West Jessamine hit .220 (43-21-100).

Barfield was named to the All-Tournament team for her performance.

Both teams had stellar play on the front line with seven blocks each. With the win, West Jessamine advances to the semifinals and is looking to become the first team from the 12th Region to make it to the state finals.

NOTRE DAME DEFEATS McCRACKEN COUNTY 3-0

Anna Long recorded 12 kills and 12 digs as Notre Dame Academy swept past McCracken County by scores of 25-15, 25-15, 25-18 in the quarterfinals of the state tournament on Friday night. Sydney Nolan added eight kills and attacked at a .500 clip for Notre Dame, which extended its winning streak to 12.

Notre Dame blockers Sydney Schroder (3) and Emma Grace (9) defend against McCracken County’s Adele Mavigliano (21) on Friday night. (KHSAA photo)

Emily Bentley dished out 34 assists as Notre Dame hit .281 and advanced to the state semifinals, where the Pandas will meet West Jessamine (19-8) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Emma Grace added nine kills and seven digs for Notre Dame, which improved to 24-3. Grace also collected a pair of blocks and served up an ace.

McCracken County (22-5) hit just .025 for the match. Notre Dame finished with a 43-20 advantage in kills and defeated the Lady Mustangs for the second time this season.

Long, a senior outside hitter who will play collegiately at Florida State, converted her 12 kills in 22 attempts and hit .273. Nolan hammered down her eight kills in 14 attempts with just one error.

UP NEXT: Saturday’s semifinals include Mercy taking on Henry Clay at 9 a.m., followed by West Jessamine and Notre Dame at 12:30 p.m.

The winners of each match will face off in the title match that is also scheduled for Saturday. First serve for the title match will be at 7:30 p.m.


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