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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Elizabethtown rolls past Marion County (10/30)

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By Ryan O'Gara

Beating any team four times in one season is no easy task.

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Turning the trick against a team which has 24 wins just isn’t likely, but the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers did just that against the Marion County Lady Knights, the 20th District champion, on Tuesday night.

Elizabethtown battled back from a late first-set deficit and grinded out victories in the second and third sets to complete a 27-25, 25-20, 25-22 victory in the 5th Region Volleyball Tournament quarterfinals at John Hardin.

“It’s a team we match up well with, but I think we also had the motivation tonight that it’s regions and if we lost tonight, we weren’t going on,” said junior outside hitter Hannah Wurth, who led the Lady Panthers with eight kills and three blocks. “So we had that extra oomph to add to the game.”

Elizabethtown (26-11), the 17th District runner-up, advances to play the Green County Lady Dragons (32-6) at 7:30 tonight in the second semifinal.

To reach the region semifinals for the seventh time in 11 years – and first since 2010 – the Lady Panthers had to overcome their typical height disadvantage. But against the Lady Knights, who boast two middle hitters over 6-foot, Elizabethtown really was up against it.

But as they usually do, the Lady Panthers played smart and focused on the little things to win points.

“We’ve heard that a lot,” Elizabethtown senior outside hitter Lacey Boone said of being at a height disadvantage. “We are the shortest and we don’t let that stop us. We act big and that helps us be mentally tough. We don’t see the height difference, we just go out and try to play big. We have big hearts first of all, but we just try to do our best every single game and not overlook any height differences.”

Elizabethtown coach Bart Catlett said he wanted senior middle hitters Shelby Priddy and Emily Reding to be vocal to draw Marion County’s middle hitters away from double blocking on the outside, and it worked about as well as he could have hoped.

“Their middles are great blockers and are very athletic, so we wanted to distract them and take the ball outside,” Catlett said.

The Lady Panthers trailed in a back-and-forth first set 24-21 but with junior libero Rebecca Hepner on the service line, they rallied to take a 25-24 lead. Tied at 25, one of Priddy’s team-high nine blocks gave Elizabethtown the lead and it won the set on an attack error.

“Not a lot of teams once they got down have the ability to come back,” Wurth said. “Once they get down, they shut down. I think that’s something that’s pretty unique to us.”

Elizabethtown jumped to a 5-2 lead in the second set on an ace from senior setter Megan Meek (22 assists, four kills) and a block from Wurth and never trailed the rest of the set. Meek’s kill was part of a 3-0 spurt to end the set.

Marion County (24-12) went on an 8-1 run to take a 20-19 lead in the third set, but Elizabethtown mounted another comeback. After Catlett called a timeout, Boone (seven kills, four blocks) had two kills and sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Keys had an ace for a 22-21 lead. Tied at 22, Wurth had a kill and then combined on a block with Boone before ending the match on a block.

Boone said the timeout helped refocus the team.

“(Coach) can tell us anything to do, but we have to be the ones out there doing it,” she said. “We can scrap or do whatever when the stakes are tough.”

Hepner had a team-high 16 digs, while junior defensive specialist Ciara Tucker added eight. Junior outside hitter Kayla Hindle had six kills and Priddy had four kills.

Elizabethtown was swept by Green County on Oct. 8, but Catlett knows anything can happen at this point of the season.

“It’s one game at a time and you throw the ball up for a reason,” Catlett said. “This year there are some favorites like Central and Green, but all of the coaches would agree it’s a little more wide open than it has been in the past. Any team that catches fire in a game can pull one out.”

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.