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By JOSH CLAYWELL email@example.com
ELIZABETHTOWN — At the beginning of the season, the Central Hardin High School volleyball team set the goal of becoming the first area team to go undefeated in 15th District play.
Led by seniors Kelsey Villwock and Tiffany Allen, the Lady Bruins achieved the feat against an old rival Tuesday night.
Central Hardin secured the No. 1 seed for next month’s district tournament and improved to 8-0 in district play with a 25-14, 21-25, 25-12 victory over the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium.
“It’s amazing. Undescribable,” said Villwock, who led Central Hardin (21-7 overall) with 10 kills and two aces. “I’m so excited about it.”
Allen, a senior setter, chipped in with 20 assists and three kills, while junior outside hitter Kevena Larkins added six kills, freshman middle/outside hitter Cheyenne Mills had two kills and sophomore setter/defensive specialist Lisa Fisher had one ace.
“It feels good to be undefeated in district,” Allen said. “We’re feeling pretty good going into districts.”
And after the way they played Tuesday night, the Lady Bruins should be feeling good.
The first set featured two ties and two lead changes before Central Hardin took a 15-12 lead on an Elizabethtown service error.
Elizabethtown coach Tim Hinkle felt his team still had a shot to win the first game, but the Lady Panthers (18-5, 5-2) fell apart as they made five consecutive attack errors to give Central Hardin a 20-12 lead.
“I think we came out and played strong and really well up until 10 or 11 points,” Hinkle said. “Once they got a little run going, we struggled. You can’t do that against a good team like Central Hardin.”
The second set was even closer, with Elizabethtown holding a 9-7 advantage after another attack error. But sophomore outside hitter Brittany Daniel blocked a kill attempt by Villwock and the Lady Panthers pushed their lead to 11-7.
Following back-to-back service errors by both teams, Elizabethtown took a 13-8 lead on a block by Ditto.
Central Hardin came right back, cutting the deficit to 13-12 on three Elizabethtown attack errors and a kill by Villwock and tied the set at 13-13 when a Lady Panther was called for being in the net.
“I think we were all just really nervous in the second set,” Allen said. “They came out really strong, and I don’t think we were expecting that.”
A kill by Ditto ended Central Hardin’s run and sparked Elizabethtown on a 4-0 run to push its lead to 17-13.
A Central Hardin service error and two Lady Bruin attack errors gave the Lady Panthers their biggest lead of the match at 23-16, which prompted veteran Central Hardin coach Wendy Boeglen to use of one of her two allotted timeouts.
“I think we were really excited about the first game. We came out and made some errors in that second game,” Boeglen said. “We helped them out. I’m not taking anything away from E’town; they played well.”
Trailing 24-18, Central Hardin senior defensive specialist Victoria Thompson scored three consecutive points before Ditto ended the set with a hard kill.
“You know we like to make our games interesting,” Villwock said. “Our passing was off tonight. Everybody seemed a little tense and we weren’t playing our game in the second set.”
Central Hardin got back to business as usual in the decisive set.
After Elizabethtown cut the lead to 7-5 on a kill by freshman right-side hitter/setter Mary Beth Russell, the Lady Bruins pulled away, scoring seven of the next nine points for a 14-7 lead.
A few minutes later, Central Hardin’s lead had grown to 17-9 and forced Hinkle to use his final timeout of the match.
“I think part of it was we’re playing Central Hardin,” Hinkle said. “We have to get to the point where we understand they’re going to have their runs. We need to get to that point where we have runs of our own, too.”
It never happened.
Central Hardin led 21-9 before an attack error gave the ball back to Elizabethtown.
The Lady Panthers cut the lead to 21-12, but the Lady Bruins scored the final points on two Elizabethtown attack errors and two aces by Villwock.
“It feels really nice. The girls were so excited about the possibility of that (going undefeated in district play) happening,” Boeglen said. “A No. 1 seed can be won without winning them all. But we’ve got to be ready for tourney play because everybody starts from scratch there.”
Elizabethtown has one district match remaining at John Hardin at 7 p.m. Thursday. If the Lady Bulldogs win, they will be the No. 2 seed.
“It’s a big game. But if you look at it from a standings point of view, we’re going to play each other no matter what,” Hinkle said. “We’re playing for second on Thursday, and we can’t get our heads down.”
Ditto paced the Lady Panthers with seven kills, while Daniel had four. Junior setter Kelly Morgan chipped in with 12 assists and Russell added four kills and three assists.
Central Hardin won the junior varsity match, 21-14, 23-21 and the freshman match, 18-15, 20-18.
UP NEXT: Central Hardin hosts former 15th District rival Meade County at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Josh Claywell can be reached at 505-1752