BEREA – It was a strange, star-crossed, injury-riddled season, but Great Crossing volleyball took another big leap closer to the Lexington schools that have long dominated the 11th Region.
The Warhawks’ dream of a first-ever regional title ended with a four-set semifinal loss Wednesday evening to Tates Creek.
GC controlled the opening game, 25-22, and lost two tight ones, 25-20 and 25-22, before Tates Creek shut it down with a 25-11 flourish.
“The fourth set, we kind of got a bunch of people that decided they were going to do their own thing and weren't following the game plan,” GC coach Adam Ivetic said. “The things we prepared for, the kids executed. We didn't have the fortitude to stick that out in the fourth set. I would have liked a better showing there.”
It was an abrupt stop sign at the end of an amazing road.
A school-record 10 consecutive wins, including a home quarterfinal ouster of Madison Central, moved Great Crossing (13-7) into the final four with Henry Clay, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Tates Creek for the first time.
“I wouldn't have believed it. I didn't know if we would even play one (match). It was a pretty cool season to see it all come together,” Ivetic said in reference to the COVID-19 challenges all teams faced. “Plus dealing with injuries the way they did and sticking stuff out. They played tough. I wouldn't trade anybody on this team for anyone else in this gym.”
Tates Creek (17-3) will try to topple reigning champion Henry Clay (19-3) in Thursday's final.
There was no mistaking that the Warhawks belonged on the big stage after they took command of a first set that was tied on seven different occasions, lastly at 13.
One of junior Grace Brooker’s most resounding performances of the season started with a kill on the first point. Her block later pulled GC even at two apiece.
Reagan McLean and Jasmine Koonce provided consecutive blocks to make it five-all. A soft-touch kill by Annie Pearson made it an 8-7 Warhawk advantage.
An ace off the net cord by Kaelyn Faul stretched that margin to 11-8 before the Commodores charged back with four unanswered points. Brooker’s spike stopped the bleeding.
Back-to-back denials from McLean, followed by a hammer from Marley Staats, sent GC on its way. Brooker punctuated the set fittingly with a rocket to the back right corner.
But not all the news was good.
In a season soured by two major knee injuries that knocked senior Alora Wilson and sophomore Ellie Eckerle out of commission, Great Crossing took another hit when junior libero Morgan Caba sprained her ankle late in the opening game.
“We rested her up, and she kind of said, 'Hey, if you need me, I'll play.' I made the decision that Morgan at 40% is still a pretty dang good player,” Ivetic said.
Kirstynn Yarber filled the void admirably in the second stanza until Caba was deemed fit to return, but the Warhawks’ offense never again found the same flow.
And each of the remaining sets turned into a game of catch-up. Pearson’s ace started game two nicely for GC, Tates Creek retorted with three in a row.
Blocks by McLean and Ryann Thomas and an ace from Brooker vaulted the Warhawks back in front, 7-6. GC expanded that margin to three points before TC snagged seven of the next eight to seize control.
Brooker, McLean and Staats led the charge down the stretch, but GC couldn’t claw closer than three as Creek leveled the match.
“They did a good job of exploiting things that we struggle with," Ivetic said. “We tried to make adjustments, tried some different personnel. Ultimately it came down to picking up tips and plugging the deep corners, and we just didn't do it.”
GC rallied to tie the third game at 11. Koonce delivered a kill and then a block after a timeout. Thomas engineered two wins with a dig and a finesse finish.
Pearson landed a no-look volley just inside the line to keep GC within two at 17-15. Yarber’s two aces and another Brooker put-away made Creek hold on for dear life.
The fateful fourth set opened with three long rallies. Tates Creek took two of them to grab a lead it never relinquished.
Tates Creek’s big, three-pronged attack of Brooke Poynter, Keri Blair and Lexie Deaton turned out the lights from that point.
“That kid in the middle (Blair), she's averaging something like 18 kills a match,” Ivetic said. “We held her to eight the first time we played her. I'd be surprised if she had five tonight. We shut her down. We took care of business on the things we needed to.”
Still, the Commodores backed up a five-set win at home during the regular season. The encore victory extended TC’s winning streak to 10 matches entering the championship match.
Only four seniors – McLean, Yarber, Pearson and Wilson – will graduate from the Warhawks’ roster of 17.
“I love these kids to death. They're hard-working kids. They want to win so bad. As disappointed and heartbroken as I feel right now, it's nothing compared to how they feel," Ivetic said. “They left their hearts out there on the line. We had a great season and overcame an absurd amount of adversity. I have nine juniors right now. Hopefully we get back here next year and go and step or two farther.”
McLean will continue her career at NCAA Division I Marshall. Besides taking the next step at regions this fall, the seniors’ legacy includes back-to-back 41st District championships.
“From day one, all those kids were contributors. I wish Reagan and Kirstynn all the success in college,” Ivetic said. “Whatever Annie decides to do, she will be successful. She's not just a really good player but a great student and a great person overall. And Alora, what can you say but most likely to succeed. She's awesome.”