Higher ground

Jasmine Koonce, left, and Marley Staats of Great Crossing combine to knock down a shot by Madison Central's Ella Cornett during Monday's 11th Region volleyball quarterfinals. The Warhawks won in straight sets and move on to a Wednesday match against Tates Creek.

Great Crossing volleyball players believe the rest of the 11th Region is sleeping on their chances to make a run in this week’s tournament.

The Warhawks have earned themselves the opportunity to set the alarm later this week.

Monday night’s straight-sets win at home over Madison Central, while another milestone for the program, was expected. The 25-6, 25-16, 25-18 final was strikingly similar to a 25-11, 25-13, 25-16 senior night verdict not even two weeks ago.

“At this time last year, if we were playing a team that maybe wasn't as good, we would lay down and be like, 'Yeah, we got this.' But this team, one of the things we said at the beginning of the year was people aren't paying attention to Great Crossing volleyball, so we've got to grab them by the face and make them pay attention,” GC coach Adam Ivetic said. “So they've been going out with that mentality. It's pretty cool to see that come together.”

Up next: A bus ride south to Berea Community High School for a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday semifinal against Tates Creek.

Creek won a five-setter when the teams met Sept. 21 in Lexington. GC (13-6) was in the middle of a six-match skid at the time, complicated by losing senior Alora Wilson to a season-ending knee injury.

“I think we had them the first time,” junior opposite hitter Grace Brooker said. “We were still kind of dealing with Alora's loss. This time we feel like we have something to prove, and we're excited for it. I know we can beat them.”

In addition to the first region playoff victory for a county team in five years, the second triumph of the season over the Indians extended the Warhawks’ school-record winning streak to 10.

They've taken 21 consecutive sets, a run that began with a five-set win at West Jessamine on Oct. 1.

“We were still coming off an injury and trying to figure everything out. A lot of our losses were in an eight-day span," Ivetic recalled. “We had no time to practice, because we had all those games, so we just kind of fought and hoped for the best. I feel like we calmed down and matured a lot as a team, and I think we've got our lineup figured out.”

GC set an immediate tone with five points out of the gate on Annie Pearson’s serve, capped by a Brooker kill.

Brooker, Jasmine Koonce and Ryann Thomas brought more heavy artillery after a brief response from Madison Central (7-14).

Ivetic has assigned junior middle hitter Koonce to shadow the other team's best player, which in the case of the Indians was some combination of Haven Combs and Avrey Rigney.

“Whoever that player is, I'm like, 'Jazz, I want you in there.' Her job is to ruin that kid's day, and she's been doing it, man,” Ivetic said. “She's been rising to the challenge. She goes out there with a mean streak. She killed it today. She was so good.

Koonce padded her team-leading total of 47 blocks with numerous stops throughout the evening.

“I like to be able to help the team out with it,” she said. “We were excited for this game, because we knew we could win.”

More impressive than the early spike from Thomas was her headfirst dig into the crowd to save another point.

Koonce continued the onslaught with a kill and a block, followed by five consecutive points at net from Marley Staats on a long service rotation by Reagan McLean.

Pearson symmetrically closed the set with more tidy service. Staats and Koonce combined to block the clinching point.

“When this offense gets going, it's tough to stop,” Ivetic said.

Thomas started the second set with an ace, but the evening took an ominous turn when serve-receive difficulties put the Warhawks in a 14-8 hole.

They climbed out in short order. Yet another Thomas grenade started a 10-0 run, with Kirstynn Yarber supplying the serves that put GC back on track.

“We got kind of slap-happy,” Brooker said. “I think everybody realized they had to be a little bit serious.”

Koonce was unstoppable down the stretch in a game that saw the Warhawks win 17 of the final 19 points.

Yarber’s ace and a dig from Pearson to set Brooker highlighted a surge of six consecutive points early in the third game.

Madison Central crept back into contention with five in a row before more in-your-face defense from Koonce and one more flush by Thomas righted the ship.

“We got a little bit weird on our serve receive. They missed serves in the first set because they were trying to serve so tough and show some aggressiveness, which is the way I coach it too,” Ivetic said of Madison Central. “They just actually connected on them in second set and got us out of system a little bit. We just tried to feed Reagan and Jasmine in the middle. They don't have the height to stop those kids. If we can get a good pass, we're going to be in good shape.”

GC’s depth, demonstrated en masse during the district tournament, was on display again. Makiyah Justice and Riley Ellison pounded home winners to provide the finishing touch.

The Warhawks lost a four-set first-rounder here in regions against Frederick Douglass a year ago.

“We got a little lucky with our pull,” Brooker said. “Last year we lost in the first round, so it's good to be home and get to move on.”

Tates Creek was one of three five-set defeats (Douglass and Bryan Station also dealt GC that fate) during that emotionally and physically draining start to the season.

Both Ivetic and his players believe it should be different this time around on a neutral court.

“I spent a long time (five years) over there,” Ivetic said of time at TC as an assistant coach. “I love watching them play. They're a tough team, but I think they're going to be kind of surprised with what we throw at them.”

“I feel confident about us going against them this time," Koonce added. “As long as we stay together as a team, I think we've got it.”

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