They did it

Great Crossing High School, 11th Region volleyball champions.

Historical trends, bucked. Traditions, built. Limitless potential, realized. History, made.

Great Crossing volleyball became the first team from the school's third-year athletic program to win an 11th Region championship, rallying past Paul Laurence Dunbar in four sets Thursday.

The No. 11 Warhawks knocked out three consecutive top-25 squads from Lexington in four nights, including prior five-set wins over Tates Creek and Frederick Douglass, and became the first program from outside the city to rule the region since Woodford County in 2004.

“We fought as a team,” said senior Teagan Feezor, whose setting and service turned the final in GC's direction and earned her tournament most valuable player honors. “It wasn't an individual thing, and we showed a lot of grit. We just really wanted it, and we showed that.”

Dunbar's final offering from the left edge sailed over the outstretched arms of sophomores Jazzy Calvert and Libby Erwin for a side out and a convincing 25-13 triumph in the fourth and deciding set, touching off a frenzied celebration.

Two hundred students – admitted free all week thanks to the prolonged generosity of Principal Joy Lusby, Coach Adam Ivetic and other anonymous benefactors – stormed the floor and piled on the triumphant team at center court.

“We fought through a lot of nerves the past two years,” Ivetic said. “We were the young guns. We were the new kids. Nobody had heard of us. We're always saying you've got to grab people by the face and make them listen. They did a whole lot more than that this week.”

Great Crossing will travel to No. 7 West Jessamine – a team the Warhawks defeated in a terrific, four-set match during the regular season – for a 7 p.m, rematch Monday in the opening round of the KHSAA state tournament.

Dunbar dropped GC in an early hole by a convincing 25-16 tally in the opening game. The big-swinging Bulldogs put the Warhawks on their heels and strung together nine consecutive points after an early 8-all tie.

Nine seniors who have won three consecutive district titles, taken a step farther at regions each year and earned the program's highest-ever ranking exhibited nothing remotely resembling panic.

“I think we just really had to rely on each other. We help each other up a lot,” said Grace Brooker, who joined classmates Ryann Thomas, Marley Staats and Feezor on the all-tournament team. “You see us out there (literally) pushing each other. One of the middles got a kill and we dragged her on the floor. We have to help each other up a lot, maybe excessively.”

Staats, Brooker and Thomas all delivered kills early in the second set, staking Great Crossing to an 8-3 lead. Multiple rallies by the Bulldogs ended with either a kill from Staats or a block from Brooker.

Feezor set a smash from Brooker to close it out, 25-17, and even the match.

“We knew we could do it. It was just nerves, honestly,” Feezor said of the transition from first to second set. “We hyped each other up, and we came out stronger for it.”

Jasmine Koonce and Staats teamed up for a monster block to keep the momentum rolling with an early lead in game three.

Each team enjoyed a 6-0 run in a topsy-turvy exchange thereafter, and Dunbar led by as many as three before kills from Erwin and Staats (twice) pulled GC even at 14, 15 and 16.

The Warhawks never trailed after Koonce's block swung the next point. Feezor had a timely tip kill to extend the run after digs by Morgan Caba and Thomas.

“When you're tired like that, it comes down to who wants it more and who's going to play as a team,” Feezor said. “You're going to be scrappy and keep it alive, because you want to go to states.”

Staats, Thomas, Brooker and Calvert spiked home the final four Warhawk points for a 25-20 win and the crucial 2-1 lead.

“I preach, and a lot of the others do, to have energy throughout the whole set,” Brooker said. “I think that's really what pulls you through. Big plays like that bring a lot of energy and momentum, so those usually get us up and rallied."

Reminiscent of the fifth-set semifinal getaway against Douglass, the clinching fourth stanza against Dunbar was no contest.

After Dunbar squared it at six, GC grabbed six of the next seven points, highlighted by two Calvert kills, an Erwin block and Caba's ace.

GC later went on another six-point surge, capped by an ace from Thomas, and Feezor set up Brooker for a cross-court laser to begin the Warhawks' 5-0 flourish at the finish.

Feezor's service placement was the first line of defense to neutralize Dunbar's power and give Great Crossing complete dominion at net.

“She came in tonight and was fearless from the service line. Every zone I gave her, she hit it. Even if they weren't aces that are going to show up on the stat sheet, every time she served the ball, they were out of system,” Ivetic said. “Dunbar has huge hitters. They have some of the nest hitters in the state. They couldn't get them to the ball with a good enough set, so we were just able to block and play defense. She probably served the ball 50 times tonight. I've never seen anything like it.”

GC's senior leaders were part of a 24-win season as ninth-graders with then-rookie coach Ivetic at Scott County before switching from red and blue to green and blue.

“We've been wanting this since our freshman year,” Feezor said. “There's nine seniors, and it's crazy. Our dreams are coming true.”

“This is insane. This is a dream we've been having,” echoed Brooker. “I've been playing since my eighth-grade year, and this has been a total dream. I'm so excited to be doing this with this group. It's special. We're super motivated to go far.”

The Warhawks repeatedly spoke this week of being on a revenge tour. Douglass and Tates Creek knocked them out of regions the past two years. Dunbar took five of six sets in two prior matches this fall.

Dues, paid. Their time, arrived.

“One of the things we've been talking about is everything has been building for this moment,” Ivetic said. “We knew this group was special, and we knew at some moment they were going to turn that corner and start taking care of business in the game when it mattered the most. They've done that this week more than I could possibly imagine, and it's all 100 percent leadership of my seniors.”

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