MIDDLESBORO - Harlan County picked a good time to put together one of its best performances of the season. The Lady Bears were in control nearly throughout the 52nd District Championship on Tuesday, knocking off Harlan 25-6, 25-23, 25-14.
“I think they had more confidence tonight. They passed the ball well. They talked like we have told them all year long. They just played wonderful tonight,” said Harlan County coach Donna Vicini. “This group played together as a team all year long. They really improved in every facet of the game. They have improved on everything that you do in volleyball.”
Rebecca Eldridge’s service gave Harlan County an early advantage in all three sets on her way to tournament most valuable player honors, and the Lady Bears rarely gave back the lead.
Eldridge’s service accounted for four of the first six points in the opening set, as Harlan County jumped out to a 6-0 lead. Harlan got on the scoreboard when a spike by Chyanna Harris was long on the next point, but a kill by Whitney Stevens quickly gave serve back to the Lady Bears. Harris then put the game out of reach with three aces and a service point to stretch the lead to 11-1.
“The serves were fabulous tonight. I thought everybody on the team served the ball good,” Vicini said.
After a Harlan point, the Lady Bears scored on six straight Cara Middleton serves to make it 18-2. The teams exchanged points before Middleton ended the match with a tip for a point.
Eldridge’s serve once again gave Harlan County an early lead in the second set. The Lady Dragons responded better this time around. A spike and dig by senior Taylor Hall closed the gap to 5-4, before Amber Rouse gave the Lady Dragons the lead with a pair of service points.
The Lady Dragons held their largest lead at 11-9, but Harris scored on two straight spikes to tie the game. From that point, Harlan County went on a 6-1 run to regain control of the set.
However, the Lady Dragons responded with a run of their own. A spike from Rouse and two service points from Lauren Hogue tied the game at 23. Harlan was unable to take the lead, as Rouse’s dig was out on the next point, and Stevens scored on a spike to end the game.
“I think our girls were just nervous. But, we are happy to be in this position. It will be a good experience for our girls to get to go to the regional tournament,” said Harlan coach Tara Posey.
Stevens, Harris and Keisha Mimes combined for nine spikes in the second set, most of which were set up by Middleton and fellow senior Breanna Dunson.
“They did a wonderful job with their spikes. They stepped up to the plate and played with confidence,” Vicini said. “I couldn’t ask for two better setters. They both give 100 percent every game to set their team up. A lot of times they don’t get the recognition they should because they are setting everybody else up.”
Eldridge’s service put Harlan County up 5-0 to start the final set, and the Lady Bears never relinquished the lead. Harlan trailed by just three when Dunson scored on a tip then a spike to give Harlan County a 10-5 advantage. The Lady Dragons were unable to get closer than two the rest of the way.
“It seems like if we have some things go wrong at the beginning, they get down and can’t bounce back from it. If we can figure out how to do that we will be rolling,” Posey said.
Both teams will advance to 13th Region Tournament next week at Lynn Camp.
“I think this region is anyone’s game as long as they play their best,” Vicini said.
Harlan County’s Dunson, Eldridge, Harris, Middleton, Mimes and Stevens were named to the 52nd District All-Tournament team They were joined by Harlan’s Hall, Rouse, Taylor Cochran and Becky Posey. Bell County’s Katie Jarvis and Sidney Gray and Middlesboro’s Anajae Stephney and Charlesa Witherspoon were also named to the team.