Sunday, September 8, 2019
Six Wins in Three Days for Highlands Volleyball
Highlands found itself back in the championship game of the September Slam hosted by Scott after capping off pool play with two wins Saturday morning. The last opponent of the three-day stretch proved to be solid.
The Southwestern Lady Warriors located about two and a half hours away just outside the Pulaski County county seat of Somerset near Lake Cumberland came into the game with a sparkling 10-2 record. Southwestern's only losses came to host Lexington Lafayette and Station Camp (from the Nashville, Tennessee suburb of Gallatin) in the Bluegrass Invitational a little more than a week ago.
Southwestern has won the 12th Region a number of times over the years including last year. The Lady Warriors beat Paintsville in the state tournament before losing to Campbell County in the state quarterfinals. But Highland had beaten the Lady Warriors in each of the past two September Slam Tournaments.
The Lady Warriors came out the aggressors in the first game building a 10-1 lead. But once sophomore CC Shick landed a hard kill, the vaunted, fast-paced Highlands attack took off. Highlands rallied to win the best-of-three set, 26-24 then 24-19 to win its first September Slam title since 2008 when current Highlands assistant coach Molly Wehage-Maxwell was a senior.
"I don't see many teams come back from 10-1 in a championship match against a quality team," said Katelyn Sallee, Highlands Head Coach. "The fact that they did it is exciting to see believing that later in the season when you're in a situation like that, that we've got what it takes to come back. This team has a lot of fight. It's a special group and I think we're ready to do some special things."
Highlands tied the first game at 12 before falling behind 19-16. Tied at 24, Shick landed a kill off a Southwestern block. Then a hitting error gave the Bluebirds the first game. Highlands senior Ava Hockney put Highlands at game point the first time with an ace on the back line.
"Southwestern just started off fast," Sallee said. "Volleyball is that way. It's like a wave. It just kind of hits you. The next thing you know, it's a three, four-point run and it's really hard to come back from that. I think they were serving aggressively and they were hitting shots that we weren't making the changes defensively to cover it. We needed a swing. That shifted our attitude from defense to offense. I think that just lit a fire."
Highlands started the second game with leads of 8-5 and 13-9. The Lady Warriors came back to tie it at 17. But up 20-18, Highlands scored four straight points to earn game point on a senior Audrey Graves kill and three Southwestern errors.
The Warriors did land a kill off blocks. But senior Casey Dunn ended it on a nice feed from Graves with a kill off a block and to the back.
"We just gave it our all," Dunn said. "It was a pretty tiring match. But I'd say we just pushed through, focused on everything we wanted and how we needed to get there."
Highlands finished with four aces, 21 kills, one solo and six assisted blocks, 21 assists and 29 digs. Things started with serving and serve reception. Graves had two aces, 18 assists, five digs and two kills and Dunn had five kills and six digs.
Sophomore defensive specialist Madison Clore led Highlands with eight digs with senior defensive specialists Rylee Kirschenbaum and Brooke Biltz adding five and three digs each. Hockney had one solo and two combined blocks to go with two kills with sophomore Lauren Buemi making two combo blocks to go with one kill. Shick led Highlands with 10 kills to go with a combo block.
"You have to adjust at the net and behind defensively," Kirschenbaum said. "I think once we got the connection with our hitters Ava and CC with what we're blocking and I knew where to go that wasn't set behind the blocks, I think we were picking up way more balls. Even though they are hitters, they are still a part of the defense. Having that connection with the hitters is important to our success defensively."
Highlands started pool play Saturday with a convincing 2-0 (25-11, 25-20) win over Calvary Christian. Highlands had four aces, 25 kills, two solo blocks by Shick, 25 assists and 31 digs. Shick led the way with six kills and Dunn had five kills and nine digs.
Graves had 20 assists and three kills with Clore also recording nine digs. Buemi and Hockney had four kills each. Junior Laura Winkler also had three kills and Kirschenbaum had five digs.
Highlands then finished pool play with a 2-0 (25-21, 26-24) victory over Conner. Highlands had seven aces, 18 kills, two solo and four combo blocks, 18 assists and 29 digs. Dunn had two aces, two kills and six digs with Graves making 17 assists, two aces and three digs.
Winkler led Highlands with seven kills and two assisted blocks and Shick had four kills and a solo block. Hockney added four kills, one solo and one assisted block and four digs.
Highlands made it to the tournament title game last year, but lost 2-1 (21-25, 25-15, 15-7) to Oldham County. The biggest difference is every player is healthy for the Bluebirds this year as opposed to a year ago.
Highlands will see where it stands with one of the teams that has formed what Sallee calls "the wall" in the 9th Region with Notre Dame in Fort Thomas on Tuesday in the St. Henry Lady Crusaders (6-5) at 7:30 p.m. St. Henry has won the last two region championships and lost to eventual state runner-up Louisville Mercy in the state semifinals last year.