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The Central Hardin Lady Bruins begin their quest for a fourth consecutive 5th Region championship with an unknown opponent, and the LaRue County Lady Hawks are in a similar situation. Meanwhile, the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers face a familiar foe.
The 5th Region Volleyball Tournament kicks off Monday at John Hardin and area coaches believe a number of teams could hoist the championship trophy come Thursday night.
“It’s hard to call anyone a real favorite,” LaRue County coach Ben Schell said. “Central Hardin has won the last three. Green (County) has played real well, so somebody’s going to have to play their best to beat them. But I think seven of the eight teams could win it all.
“If everyone brings their best, this could be the most exciting and competitive region tournaments we’ve had in the 5th,” he added.
The 17th District champion Lady Bruins (27-9) meet 20th District runner-up Taylor County (14-18) at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the quarterfinals. The teams didn’t play during the regular season and haven’t met since Central Hardin beat the Lady Cardinals in the opening round of the 2010 tournament.
“I’ve not seen Taylor County, so that kind of scares me going in blind,” Central Hardin coach Bill Rineker said. “I’ve said all season this is one of the most evenly matched regions. There are no easy games and there’s not an easy draw.”
Central Hardin enters the region tournament on a five-match winning streak, including knocking off Elizabethtown for the first time in three tries in the district championship. Rineker said the win gives the Lady Bruins momentum at the right time.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Rineker said. “Both matches against them we had match point and lost. It was good for the girls to finally get over that hump. With a young team, we needed a win like that to build on.”
In the first quarterfinal Monday, the 18th District runner-up Lady Hawks (23-9) play 19th District champion Bardstown Bethlehem (19-4) at 6 p.m. Like the Lady Bruins, LaRue County didn’t face its first-round opponent during the regular season. The Lady Hawks haven’t met Bethlehem since a loss in the 2009 region semifinals.
“We haven’t played Bethlehem the last few years,” Schell said. “I’ll have to call some coaches to get a scouting report on them. It might be a good thing that we didn’t play them. Both teams are going in cold. But it could be a good thing for us in the first game.”
On Tuesday, the 17th District runner-up Lady Panthers (25-11) face 20th District champion Marion County (24-11) at 6 p.m. Elizabethtown beat the Lady Knights three times during the regular season – twice in the Woodford County Invitational in two sets and once at home in three sets.
“They have some very athletic players,” Elizabethtown coach Bart Catlett said. “They have some tall players, but everyone is taller than us. We need to be focused and take it one set at a time. We can’t look ahead.”
Elizabethtown, which beat Marion County in the 2010 semifinals, has lost in the first round of the region tournament the last two years, but hopes the familiarity with the Lady Knights will help.
“The last two times we played them we’ve had the same game plan, so I think it gives us a little confidence going in,” Catlett said. “We have to focus on the first match. Overall, it’s a happy draw for us.”
The 18th District champion Lady Dragons (31-6) play 19th District runner-up Nelson County (25-10) in the nightcap Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The Lady Dragons, who have won six straight matches, have made two consecutive region final appearances and won the tournament in 2005, ’08 and ’09.
“Green County is the favorite,” Rineker said. “I don’t have to think 3 seconds about that. They were in the region final last year and only lost one player. They are very seasoned and they have two of the best coaches. We beat them twice and I still haven’t figured out how we did it.”
The semifinals are Wednesday at 6 and 7:30 p.m. with the championship at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Chuck Jones can be reached at 270-505-1759 or email@example.com.