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In the huddle before the fourth set against 17th District rival John Hardin, first-year North Hardin volleyball coach Jessica Gunby challenged her team.
The visiting Lady Bulldogs had just gained momentum with a double-digit win, and Gunby didn’t know how the Lady Trojans might respond. She had seen her players get down after a loss like that too many times before this season.
But Tuesday night was going to be different. North Hardin won the fourth set before ending the final set with an 8-1 run to knock off John Hardin, 18-25, 25-22, 14-25, 25-21, 15-7 at Ron Bevars Gymnasium.
“I saw fight in them,” Gunby said. “I told them this is where you find out what kind of heart you’ve got. You can show them you’ve got some fight in you, but you’ve got to show them – I can’t do it for you. I told them to show me what they wanted, and they showed it to me in that fourth set. I was proud of the fact they didn’t give up all night.
“Just seeing them come out that fourth set and knowing they weren’t going to give up on each other was great,” she added. “They got on the same page and decided they wanted to win the game.”
That they did.
After losing to the Lady Bulldogs (6-9, 2-3 district) in four sets earlier this season, the Lady Trojans weren’t about to let it happen again.
North Hardin rallied from an 11-6 deficit in the fourth game, eventually taking an 18-15 lead on a block by senior outside hitter Paige Shelman. The Lady Trojans stretched the lead to 22-18, forcing first-year John Hardin coach Tiffany Walker to call a timeout.
Shelman had two kills to make it 24-19 but the Lady Bulldogs pulled within 24-21 on an attack error. But North Hardin senior middle hitter Tashara Jackson ended the set with an emphatic kill.
“It was very gut-checking because we had to feel it in our hearts that we were going to win,” Jackson said. “We had to pull it together as a team. Once we did that, we won.”
After falling behind 6-3 in the fifth set, John Hardin rallied and made it 7-6 on a North Hardin attack error.
But the Lady Trojans (9-10, 2-4) regrouped with a kill from Shelman, who reeled off three straight aces and got two kills from junior outside hitter Cassie Ferguson to end the match.
“We changed our mindset,” said Jackson, who finished with seven kills and two blocks. “We were mentally tough the last two sets and we came out on top. We just remembered to play tough and pulled it together. We worked as a team and got it together, and we won.”
The win caught Gunby – and the Lady Bulldogs – by surprise. The Lady Trojans went 0-3 last week and Gunby didn’t know what the carryover affect would be.
But in the fourth set, everything changed and North Hardin – feeding off its frenetic student section – rallied.
“After the third set and seeing them in the huddle and hearing those conversations, it caught me a little bit off-guard because I think if anyone was in our huddle, you’d think we were done,” Gunby said. “I think they proved a lot of people wrong. If someone saw how down they were on themselves, they wouldn’t have expected them to come out like they did. But my kids have a lot of heart and intensity. They have the desire to be a good team, but we’re still getting there.”
Senior middle hitter Dalani Rainwater led North Hardin with nine kills and two blocks, while Ferguson added eight kills and five aces. Shelman chipped in with five aces, four kills and two blocks.
Senior middle hitter Kaitlyn Priddy led John Hardin with nine blocks, six kills, two aces and one dig, while senior outside hitter Justice Bayless had four kills and one block.
Senior setter Sydney Conahan added 45 assists, seven digs, three aces, one block and one kill for the Lady Bulldogs, who had won two straight.
“North Hardin fought and earned those points,” Walker said. “We should’ve came out harder. They did fight, but it just came down to who wanted it the most and who made the smallest mistakes. The little mistakes added up and it cost us the game.
“They just got that pick-me-up and started rolling with it,” she added. “We gave them too much slack and they just punched through and took that (fourth) set. We have to learn how to not let them get rolling again. We have to make sure to cut their runs off and keep the pressure on so we can punch through.”
UP NEXT: North Hardin plays at Elizabethtown at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. John Hardin hosts Fort Knox at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Josh Claywell can be reached at 270-505-1752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.