Tall order

Jasmine Koonce goes for a block at net for Great Crossing on Thursday night as Melanie McClanahan (23) and Samantha McClanahan of Scott County follow the play. GC grabbed a hard-fought, four-set win in the Battle of the Birds. 

The county's high school volleyball rivalry is already living up to that throw out the records, rankings and reputations standard.

Great Crossing swept through two other 11th Region contenders in this opening week, but Thursday night the host Warhawks saw Scott County win the first set, then had to fight off two set points in the closing chapter to clinch a 3-1 victory.

SC's youth showed in the middle games, but the Cardinals made their presence felt before the Warhawks walked away 23-25, 25-13, 25-17, 27-25 winners.

"It doesn't matter what the rosters look like in this game. It's gonna be a battle no matter what," GC coach Adam Ivetic said. "I just love playing Scott County. Joe (LaMagno, Cardinals' coach) does such a good job. Those kids are so tough. I wish we could play games with that kind of intensity all the time. You love to see it."

Alora Wilson and Ryann Thomas killed pivotal points to prevent SC from forcing a fifth and deciding set.

Wilson and Grace Brooker then combined for a block to swing match point to the Warhawks (3-0), who won a fourth consecutive rally to seal the deal.

"We've got some really tough seniors. I don't know what happened to Alora Wilson over club season, but that kid is strong," Ivetic said. "She's putting some mustard on the ball. She's actually been the person I've been most impressed with coming back from last year. I'm proud of how hard she works. To see it pay off for senior year, man, can't beat it."

Scott County (0-2) captured the first six points of the fourth set on Samantha McClanahan's serve before Reagan McLean, Annie Pearson and Jasmine Koonce led a run that pulled GC even at eight.

The lead changed numerous times with the score in the teens. Cards' sophomore Emily Sue Watts and freshman Hollee Hasenbalg brought their team back from the brink.

"I've got a pretty young team, four seniors. The girls know how to play volleyball, but we're trying to learn how to play winning volleyball," LaMagno said. "We talk about the moments, like the last moment when my little freshman went up there and missed that hit. I know she wants that ball back, and next time she gets a chance, I guarantee you she puts it away."

Scott County already had five-set experience in a loss two nights earlier at Madison Southern. The last thing Ivetic wanted was Great Crossing to let the Cards escape the fourth set and gain new life.

"Once you get into a fifth set, it's only to 15 (points). It's a coin toss, and every other set started 5-1 or something like that one way," Ivetic said. "I was really, really hoping we were going to pull it out."

Set one was similarly back-and-forth until two winners by Watts and a side out gave the Cards a cushion. In a hint of what was to come later, GC warded off a pair of set points before Watts supplied the finishing touch.

A series of resounding winners from Grace Brooker staked Great Crossing to a 10-3 lead in the second stanza. The lead never dipped beneath seven points thereafter.

"There were a couple sets I'd like to forget. One was ugly-ugly," LaMagno said. "We struggled at times. It's our energy flow. We get a big win in the first game, then really flat, then come back up. We've got to find a way to balance that out. That comes with tournaments and age. I don't know how to coach it. If you know anybody who does, tell them to give me a call."

GC 's heavy hitters set a similar pace in the third set, but McClanahan and Grace Gindling fueled modest rally before Brooker, Wilson and McLean dropped the hammer in succession to wrap it up.

"Our seniors kind of took charge. (Scott County) kind of poked the bear. They got pretty mad," Ivetic said. "They were kind of taking breaks, taking some plays off, or were in the right spot and weren't making the play, but then they just flipped the switch. I think the seniors got everybody refocused, and it looked a lot better."

Koonce keyed the collective effort at the point of attack with 10 kills and six blocks. Ivetic said the latter number is the highest he can remember in a single game from any player on a team he has coached.

Thomas (12 kills) and McLean (10) also put away plenty of points, while Wilson and Brooker delivered three blocks apiece.

Morgan Caba's trademark unselfishness in the libero slot paid dividends with 15 digs, McLean (10), Pearson (eight) and Kirstynn Yarber (seven) also did their part to keep rallies alive.

"We've been focusing every day on rising up through practice, making sure we're playing our best ball at the end," Ivetic said. "We finish every day with this scrapping drill where I really put the kids through the paces. We did it once, and the kids loved it, so now we're finishing practice every day with that drill, and it's paying off. We're finishing far better than at this time last year."

The Warhawks owned prior road wins over Lafayette and Madison Southern. Their week ahead features two more titanic away tests at Frederick Douglass (Monday) and Henry Clay (Thursday).

SC goes to Lexington Catholic on Tuesday and hosts West Jessamine on Thursday.

"They're all quality teams," LaMagno said. "Our district is insane."

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