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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Three and counting (10/11)

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By John Groth

Central Hardin ended the 17th District Volleyball Tournament championship in a flash.

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The Lady Bruins have faced Elizabethtown in the district title match every year since 2003, but never have they dispatched the Lady Panthers like this.

Top-seeded Central Hardin swept second-seeded Elizabethtown, 25-7, 25-13, 25-12 in 55 minutes Wednesday night at Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium, giving Bill Rineker a district title in his first year as head coach.

Central Hardin (32-4) recorded its third straight district championship and its ninth overall. It’s the second time the Lady Bruins have won three straight district titles (2003-05).

“We want to finish out our senior year because all of us seniors have been together for so long,” said senior right back Sarah Rineker. “We want to go out with a bang and have a really good year, especially with my dad (Bill) because he’s been coaching us for so long. And now he’s actually our head coach. And it just feels like our family, cause we’re a family, deserves it.”

Assistant coach Rita Highbaugh has been with the program since it started in 2000, and she thought this was the best the Lady Bruins have ever played in a district final.

“I really think the girls just came out ready to play tonight,” Highbaugh said. “You can prepare them with everything that you can do as a coach. But then they’ve got to dig deep inside and come out and I think today they came out ready to show that they’re ready to move on in the tournament hopefully. I think they came out tonight ready to play and they put on a show.”

That they did.

Tied at 4 in the first set, the Lady Bruins went on an 8-0 blitz – with all but one point coming on the offensive end. Up 13-6, they went on a 7-0 run and after an Elizabethtown point, the Lady Bruins ended the game with a 5-0 burst.

Senior middle hitter Sydney Hall had four of her team-high 10 kills in the first set, while senior setter Abbey Sorrells and senior libero Courtney Helton each had two aces. In fact, the Lady Bruins finished with more kills in the first set (nine) than Elizabethtown had all match (seven).

“It’s almost like they’ve saved up for this moment. They’ve been tough all year, but it’s like they really saved their best for the biggest moment so far,” Bill Rineker said. “Our front row is amazing and they have been all year. Our defense, passing and serving tonight was just in a zone. We really cleaned up our defense and every point they got they earned. There was no freebies tonight.”

Central Hardin opened the second set on a 7-0 run and although Elizabethtown (25-9) went on three three-point runs, the Lady Panthers couldn’t catch up because of too many serve-receive errors. The Lady Bruins didn’t slow down in the third set either, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. Up 21-12, they closed the match with a 4-0 run as Sorrells recorded match point off a block.

“After one mess up, our heads just go down,” said Elizabethtown junior setter Megan Meek. “It’s harder for us to pull back out of that cause we get down on ourselves easy.”

Central Hardin also almost tripled the Lady Panthers in total blocks, 8-3, which frustrated first-year Elizabethtown coach Bart Catlett.

“Central Hardin played well. They did a great job blocking against us. We could’ve done a better job at playing our offense and being aggressive and taking more swings. Even when they were giving us free balls, we wouldn’t put that ball in system and try to run something out of it,” he said. “The biggest thing tonight was our serve-receive. That might’ve been our first- or second-worst game in serve-receive we’ve had all year and it showed.”

Catlett said the Lady Panthers planned to key off Central Hardin’s middle attack first, but didn’t execute it. Senior left-side hitter Afton Conner had eight kills and three digs, while senior middle hitter Alneisha Butler had three kills and two blocks. Sorrells added 20 assists, three digs and two kills and senior right-side hitter Eden Tharpe had two blocks.

Sorrells, Hall, Conner and Butler all earned All-Tournament Team honors, as did Elizabethtown senior opposite hitter Kate Hula, junior setter Lauren Keys and senior middle blocker Brittany Stokan.

Both teams move on to the 5th Region Volleyball Tournament at Marion County next week, when Central Hardin will aim for a record third straight title.

Catlett said the Lady Panthers will work on passing and endurance and go back to speed drills to get them more prepared.

“We need it,” Meek said. “We need to work on that cause whenever it is close games we need to be able to push through and end up on top in the end. It will do nothing but good.”

John Groth can be reached at (270) 505-1754 or jgroth@thenewsenterprise.com.

17TH DISTRICT VOLLEYBALL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Central Hardin: Abbey Sorrells, Afton Conner, Alneisha Butler and Sydney Hall.

Elizabethtown: Kate Hula, Lauren Keys and Brittany Stokan.

John Hardin: Dominique Malott and Sydney Conahan.

North Hardin: Dalani Rainwater and Kadie Kimbrough.

Fort Knox: Haley Dudeck.