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LOUISVILLE – North Oldham took away the heart of Central Hardin’s offensive attack.
The Lady Mustangs ate up the middle, leaving the Lady Bruins in a frustrated state.
With its main offensive set getting dug up or blocked, Central Hardin was rendered helpless in a 23-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-15 loss Friday in the first round of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament at Louisville Valley.
“Well, they’re just a really aggressive team. Our middles are our main part of our game and when they’re shut down, that’s really hard. Of course, it wasn’t just our middles, it was all of us they were shutting down,” said senior left-side hitter Afton Conner. “For the outside especially, that’s a main part of our game because we like to tip kill shots and tip short and they had that covered and that no longer was open. Then, they also had a huge block in front of us so it was really hard to hit something (where) they weren’t covering.”
No. 11 North Oldham (29-10) had it covered alright.
The 8th Region Tournament champion Lady Mustangs quieted No. 13 Central Hardin’s front-row attack.
The dominating front row which led the Lady Bruins (36-5) to 17th District and 5th Region Tournament sweeps didn’t have the same effect.
Senior middle hitters Alneisha Butler and Sydney Hall, along with Conner, finished with nine kills each, while sophomore left-side hitter Lauren Christman had six.
Balanced, yes. But the Lady Bruins finished just 11 percent on the attack (37 kills and 21 errors out of 145 attempts). Meanwhile, North Oldham totaled 56 kills out of 140 attempts and had just 14 errors to finish at 30 percent.
North Oldham coach Brian Jones watched Central Hardin play before and developed a game plan. He knew its strong point was the middle and used his tall front line of seniors Amanda Marques and Madison Tinder and junior Hailey Foote to handle Central Hardin’s leaping attack. He moved sophomore libero Mikaela Beyea up more in case of a tip. The Lady Mustangs finished with eight blocks and 14 block assists. It was all about following Central Hardin players’ eyes.
“We had a talk with them about making sure to eye on the line of approach from those middle attackers because it was like they were up and all of a sudden our middles were like ‘oh god, they’re up in the air,’” Jones said. “We really talked to them about keeping their eye focused on their hitters and making sure to find their hitters and that’s when they finally started getting those big blocks and then shutting them down.”
But it took a set before North Oldham took control.
Central Hardin garnered momentum by pulling out the first set.
Tied at 23, the Lady Bruins got a point off a North Oldham return error before Butler made an emphatic set-winning block. She swung her arms in the air as she returned to celebrate with her team in the huddle. That’s the last major celebration the Lady Bruins had.
After the first set, their powerful quick kills, blocks or tips down the middle weren’t allowed much anymore.
North Oldham jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second set. Central Hardin trimmed the deficit to 9-6, but the Lady Mustangs answered with seven straight points – with Hailey Foote recording two kills and senior setter Shelby Foote and Marques making one each. North Oldham pushed the advantage to 21-11 before Central Hardin cut it to 22-16. After a timeout, North Oldham scored the final three points.
Those runs were a theme the final two sets, too.
Tied at 16 in the third set, North Oldham scored eight straight points to take a 24-16 advantage. Hailey Foote and Tinder had two kills each during that stretch.
Leading 15-14 in the fourth set, North Oldham went on an 8-0 run – recording four kills during that span.
“They brought it to the table and they were hitting very well tonight. Our passers, if it wasn’t in the net, we couldn’t run our middles so it wasn’t an option. And they were blocking very well,” Hall said. “It felt like we were playing catch up the whole time.”
Freshman outside hitter Casey Foote (14), Marques (11) and Tinder (10) each finished with double-digit kills, while freshman middle blocker Sarah Snyder added seven.
First-year Central Hardin coach Bill Rineker thought the Lady Mustangs’ passing ability is what keyed those runs. Shelby Foote totaled 44 assists and he was impressed on how few mistakes they made.
“Every single pass, they were in system. They could run anything they wanted and we were just scrambling all night. Our effort was amazing, but we were just a little bit off. I mean, we were. And give credit to them because a lot of it had to do with how good they played,” Rineker said. “They were able to mix up their offense because their passing was just perfect. And we just couldn’t get ours mixed up – a combination of we didn’t pass our best, our middles when they did get it didn’t always bring it, they were trying to tip. You can’t tip against North Oldham. Their defense is amazing.”
John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or email@example.com.