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At the beginning of the season, the consensus was the 17th District could be much more wide open than in recent years.
Perennial area powers Elizabethtown and Central Hardin lost significant pieces, while North Hardin and John Hardin each returned the core of their teams.
But after eight district matches, the top-seeded Lady Panthers (24-10) and second-seeded Lady Bruins (25-9) have once again separated themselves from the pack and are the clear-cut favorites heading into district tournament, which begins today and runs through Wednesday at Fort Knox.
“I would say going into it, E’town has the most momentum,” said North Hardin coach Jessica Gunby. “They’ve been on fire and are a very solid team. From what we had heard in the preseason, a lot of people overlooked them. Obviously Central will be right there with them and is a solid team, as well.”
Elizabethtown and Central Hardin have met in the last 10 district finals, with the Lady Bruins winning seven – including the last three.
Should the rivals meet in the final again, it likely won’t be anything less than their first two meetings this year. Elizabethtown prevailed in five sets Sept. 17 to end Central Hardin’s 59-match winning streak against 5th Region opponents, and then won another five-set thriller Oct. 10.
But to get there, the Lady Panthers and the Lady Bruins will have to get by teams which gave them trouble in the regular season.
Elizabethtown will face the winner of today’s quarterfinal between the fourth-seeded John Hardin Lady Bulldogs (11-18) and the fifth-seeded Fort Knox Lady Eagles (2-18). If it’s John Hardin, the Lady Bulldogs took the Lady Panthers to five sets Aug. 27 before losing, but Elizabethtown swept John Hardin in convincing fashion in their second match.
Whoever they play Tuesday, Elizabethtown isn’t looking ahead.
“I’m not trying to sound too cliché, but we’re just taking one step at a time because have to win one to get to region,” said Elizabethtown coach Bart Catlett. “We want to do more than that, but that’s our focus. … Our goal every year is to win first district tourney match to make it to region. If we get to district title match, they’ll be extra hyped about that.”
John Hardin defeated Fort Knox in both of their matchups this season and is coming off a second-place finish Saturday at the John Hardin Volleybrawl.
“I’m hoping that will give momentum going into this week,” said John Hardin coach Tiffany Walker. “We’re going to take it day by day.
“They have to fight for it,” she added. “E’town is not going to give it up easy; no one will. Everyone has to fight for it. It’s going to come down to mental mistakes.”
Central Hardin faces third-seeded North Hardin in the second semifinal Tuesday and won both meetings this season. The Lady Trojans, however, took the first set Sept. 5 against the Lady Bruins and led 20-14 in the second before Central Hardin regrouped and won in four.
“With their record against us, it’s always been mental going into that game,” Gunby said. “The second time we played them, it broke that mental thing that we couldn’t play with them. We played with them every set except one so they have a little confidence after that. I have no doubt having as many seniors as we do, they want it and will show up ready to play.”
The last time Fort Knox reached the district final was 2001 when the district was seven teams. North Hardin and John Hardin have never made district final.
18thDISTRICT TOURNAMENT AT GREEN COUNTY.The second-seeded LaRue County Lady Hawks (22-8) play the third-seeded Hart County Lady Raiders (9-16) tonight in the semifinals. LaRue County swept Hart County in both matches this season.
A potential rematch with the top-seeded Green County Dragons (29-6) awaits in the final. The Lady Hawks lost both matches to Green County, but have made progress against the Dragons, losing each of the last two sets 26-24. But whether that turns into a district title remains to be seen.
Green County has won 10 straight district titles. LaRue County and Green County have met in the last seven district finals, with the Dragons winning 15 of the 18 sets.
“We struggled the first match we had with them,” said LaRue County coach Ben Schell said of Green County. “The second match we were at home and had issues at the beginning, but came together a little more in the second and third set. That’s a positive moving forward that if we get to the district final, we can play with them.”
The most important thing for the LaRue County? Consistency. For example, the Lady Hawks looked unbeatable in taking the first set off Elizabethtown on Oct. 15 but dropped the next three.
“We’ll look like best team in region for 10 points and one of the worst for 10 points at times,” Schell said. “That’s a mental thing. We have more experience than region and in district. Using experience in pressure situations – that should be a benefit. We haven’t played our best match yet. I think that’s still in there.”
11th DISTRICT TOURNAMENT AT BRECKINRIDGE COUNTY.The second-seeded Meade County Lady Waves (12-13) face the third-seeded Hancock County Lady Hornets (12-15) in the semifinals at 7 tonight. Meade County beat Hancock County both times during the regular season.
The winner gets the top-seeded Breckinridge County Lady Tigers (19-12) in the title match. The Lady Waves split with the Lady Tigers during the season and are looking for their sixth district title in the last nine years. Meade County and Breckinridge County have met in the last three district championships, with the Lady Tigers winning two.
Meade County has come on strong the last several weeks, going 3-3. The Lady Waves lost to Central Hardin in five sets Thursday.
“The girls have really progressed in the last few weeks,” said Meade County coach Shajuana Ditto. “I’m proud of their progression and their work ethic. We’re not overlooking over anyone, including Hancock. As long as we don’t play to the level of our competition, we’ll be OK.”
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or email@example.com.