Four Northern Kentucky high school volleyball teams are a game away from the state tournament.
The 9th Region features the Notre Dame Pandas (29-5 overall) traveling to Union to face the Ryle Raiders (24-15).
Then the 10th Region features a third battle this season between two 37th District rivals as the Scott Eagles (27-12) travel across the Licking River to face the host Bishop Brossart Mustangs (26-13). Scott won the regular season meeting there before Brossart came to Scott and won the first district tournament title in program history last week.
Both games start at 6 p.m.
9th Region semifinals at Ryle
Notre Dame 3, St. Henry 1
The Pandas made it back to the region championship for the 17th year in a row. But they had to outlast the Crusaders, 36-34 in the final game to do it. St. Henry (25-8) won the first game, 25-23, before Notre Dame took the next two by 25-23, 25-16 scores.
St. Henry held off Notre Dame seven times with game-point in that fourth game and the Pandas withstood three Crusader game-point opportunities. Up 35-34, Notre Dame senior 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter Sydney Nolan blocked a St. Henry junior power hitter Alivia Skidmore spike attempt on a double block at the net with freshman middle blocker Audrey Dyas. The Crusaders dug up the ball. But the Crusaders pushed the second pass out of bounds giving the Pandas the win.
The Pandas had 64 kills, six aces, 60 assists, 89 digs and eight blocks in the win. Nolan and senior right-side hitter Peyton Mast led the way with 26 and 16 kills respectively.
“Everybody works together to get that,” Mast said. “It’s just the best feeling in the world, especially against a team like St. Henry. They’re just amazing. It’s such a battle. It’s a crazy environment. You just tune everything else that’s around you and focus on your team.”
The front row had to play the back row at one point in the fourth game. Nolan served twice, which generally has not happened coming into the game with three aces on the season.
“Kudos for the girls for fighting their way though and just understanding they get minimal reps in some of those positions in practice, but just being focused enough to do their job and not feel like they have to overdo anything,” said Leslie Litmer, Notre Dame head coach. “That’s what we talk about all the time is staying out of our own way because we have a lot of talented players. That forms a good team.”
Six different hitters had kills for Notre Dame. Sophomore outside hitters Ava Tilden and Riley McCloskey had nine and seven respectively and sophomore middle blocker Ella Goetz had her two in the final game with one on an adjustment in the air on a tip kill.
“We learn to adjust everything, especially in the end,” Goetz said. “We had a passer in the front row. We can all play almost any position so we just worked together and got it done.”
Senior libero Kamden Schrand put up her usual sparkling stats digging up 33 balls to go with five assists with senior defensive specialist Kayla Hostetler recording 16 kills and sophomore Julia Grace had 11. The two setters in sophomore Lauren Ott and freshman Lizzy Larkins added eight digs each to go with 31 and 21 assists respectively.
“I just trust my teammates,” Larkins said. “I can go in here with confidence that we can do this because of everyone around me. We all play hard in practice. That just allows us to be able to do everything.”
The Crusaders did everything possible trying to extend their season. They unofficially had 56 kills, 42 assists, six blocks, 53 digs and six aces. Junior libero Elizabeth Tabeling had 28 digs and junior hitter Alivia Skidmore had 14 kills and 10 digs. Skidmore came out of the first game with an apparent ankle injury, but came back to start the second game.
“Our principal (Grant Brannen) started at the beginning of the year, ‘What does being a Crusader mean?’ and he used the term, ‘Cru grit’ and we use that a lot,” said Maureen Kaiser, St. Henry head coach. “You have to have grit and you can’t let the nerves get the best of you. We did that the other night. We made sure we weren’t going to do it. We got beat by a good team. If Notre Dame represents Northern Kentucky in the state tournament, then I wish them the best.”
Junior setter/outside hitter Macy Lentz had 41 assists, five digs and four kills. Junior middle blocker Anna Guard and senior hitter Josie Schroder added to the Crusader balance with 21 kills and Schroder had 12. Guard had three blocks and Schroder had two.
Every game except the third game stayed tight. That third game saw Notre Dame built a 17-6 lead. The Crusaders trimmed it to 19-11 at one point. But Notre Dame closed it out with a Mast kill. Dyas had two big blocks during that game.
“You roll the dice and make adjustments as you go,” Litmer said. “That’s part of the nature of the sport, but especially when you play against a team like St. Henry. They just do a good job of streaming toward your weaknesses. We tried to make some adjustments with our blocking and our defense where we felt like we were getting burned a lot. That seemed to help us a lot.”
St. Henry graduates two seniors in Schroder and outside hitter Sam Lewis. But a good core returns for next season.
“I couldn’t ask for any better leaders,” Kaiser said. “They gave me 110 percent at all times and led with passion.”
Ryle 3, Holy Cross 0
The Raiders defended their home floor against the Indians (30-9) winning in three by 25-20, 25-23, 25-20 scores.
Ryle successfully kept the Indians out of system a good part of the game to limit the number of touches for senior setter Maya Hunt and junior power hitter Julia Hunt. Maya Hunt had 27 assists and Julia Hunt 18 kills after torching Highlands for 26 in the region quarterfinals.
“That was the plan. That’s what we talked about since the Hunt girls make such good connections,” said Tasha Lovins, Ryle head coach. “What can we do on our part? So if they’re out of system, maybe the setter takes the ball so now maybe she can’t find Julia. Maybe she has to find someone else or Julia has to roll or tip. I think we established it.”
The Ryle depth also helped. The Raiders unofficially had 38 kills, 32 assists, 24 digs, three blocks and seven aces. Sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Olivia Karlosky had four aces to lead the Raiders.
“It’s all about reading. Our blockers did a great job with following (Julia Hunt) and taking a lot of space up on the court,” Karlosky said. “They gave me one place to go. That helped a lot.”
Senior setter Maddie Clark and junior hitter/setter Kiana Dinn had their usual contributions. Dinn had 20 kills, 10 assists and eight digs with Clark putting up 19 assists. Clark also recorded her 500th career dig in the win. Freshman outside hitter/setter Morgan Heater had seven kills.
But the Raiders had a number of contributions from others. Junior defensive specialist Abby Lester had four kills and four digs with junior Rebecca Kramer putting down four kills.
“We take those opportunities when we go in and do our best to work together as a team to help those people that got in to play their part and do really well at that role whenever they get in,” said Merisa Workman, Ryle junior setter/defensive specialist. “They showed us how good hitters hit and how to block. I feel like as a team, we work better with fast-paced games.”
Holy Cross had 31 kills, 21 digs, two blocks and nine aces. Maya Hunt added three aces with Hood and Bessler recording two each.
“This match doesn’t define us,” said Jill Hunt, Holy Cross head coach. “We did not play our game. We did not keep it together. But our season was spectacular. (Ryle) has a lot of experience. I have a lot of good athletes. But they don’t have that big high-level experience and sometimes, that comes back to get us.”
The first game stayed tight. Ryle led 20-17 before a 4-0 run on a Karlosky ace increased the lead to 24-20. Following two Maya Hunt aces, the Indians served one long to give the game to Ryle.
“One of my goals when I took over 21 years ago was to build a family from the freshman team all the way to the varsity,” Lovins said. “It was not going to be just about varsity. It was going to be about building a program and getting everyone involved. I feel like the team now, especially the varsity in the postseason, everyone has a job to do. They’re going to embrace that.”
The second game stayed tight from the first serve until the final ball hit the floor. Tied at 21, a Heater kill and Holy Cross error put Ryle up 23-21. Dinn landed a kill to put Ryle up 24-22 before Holy Cross senior Nejai Lewis landed a kill. But Dinn put another one down to give the Raiders the second game.
“We all had the energy and intensity the whole game and we kept motivating and supporting each other through everything even when we made a mistake,” Dinn said. “We would shake it off, reunite and play as one. I feel like that really helped us. When we play as a team, we really play well.”
Ryle started the final game with a 5-1 lead but the Indians got back into system and Hunt helped the Indians put up a rally building a 14-9 lead after two Hood kills. The Indians led 21-18 after a Maya Hunt setter dump.
The Raiders ran off four straight to go up 22-21 after a Heater kill. Dinn landed a kill to give Ryle game point. But Julia Hunt answered with a kill before two Holy Cross hitting errors gave the Raiders the match.
Holy Cross graduates four seniors in Hood, Lewis, Bessler and Maya Hunt. Maya Hunt is taking her talents to Marshall University.
10th Region semifinals at Bishop Brossart
Bishop Brossart 3, Montgomery County 0
The Mustangs took down the defending region champion Indians (12-24) soundly by 25-8, 25-14, 25-6 scores to make it back to the region title game for the first time since 2015.
“It was good to be back,” said Bree Velasquez, Brossart head coach. “We definitely minimized our errors. We were all in again. We passed really well so we were able to stay in system. Then our offense just took it and ran. We got touches and the net and then our defense just fed around it. When we stay in system, we’re a tough team for sure.”
Brossart had 36 kills, eight blocks, 35 assists, 56 digs and seven aces. Junior libero Maddie Kremer had 43 digs and six aces with sophomore Corrine Blackburn recording 13 kills.
Eighth grade setter Aubrey Rebholz had 31 assists and her cousin Kayla Hesse, a junior outside hitter, had six kills on her 17th birthday. Sophomore Kate Neltner had 12 kills and two blocks with junior middle blocker Payton Parker recording four kills and four blocks.
“I definitely think (it’s about) the unity we have as a team and just our attitudes,” Hesse said. “Sometimes we get in grudges and I think it has a lot to do with the way we play because we’re an emotional team. When our energy is up and our attitudes (are good), we definitely play 1,000 times better. It’s been improving a lot.”
Scott 3, George Rogers Clark 0
The Eagles have been a staple in the region championship and are back there this year after losing in the region semifinals last year winning three straight by 25-17, 25-15, 25-16 scores over the 40th District champion Cardinals (18-11).
Scott did it without senior libero Laine Morman. Morman had to leave during the first game. Morman led the Eagles with 383 digs on the season entering the tournament.
“She was going after a ball, got stepped on and hit her head pretty good so we had to have a couple younger girls step up and have to play those big roles on defense,” said Andrea Sullivan, Scott head coach. “That was some adversity that we dealt with.”
The Eagles had 13 aces, 32 kills, eight blocks, 25 assists and 26 digs. Freshman hitter Milyn Minor had 11 kills, two aces and six digs. Senior setter Audrey Griffin had 22 assists, three kills and seven digs. Senior hitter Makaylah Mitchell led Scott with 12 kills to go with two blocks.
“It really showed us what our freshmen are capable of doing for upcoming seasons,” Minor said. “We also talked about how it’s important for us to practice plays because you never know when you’re going to be needed to go in.”
Scott owns five region championships since the current format came together in 2012. The Eagles won it four years in a row from 2014 though 2017 driving to the state semifinals in 2014.
8th Region semifinals at Eminence
South Oldham 3, Simon Kenton 0
The Pioneers (16-20) saw their their season end in three straight by 25-23, 25-14, 25-22 scores to the 29th District runner-up Dragons (23-12).
Junior hitter Sophie Spainer led Simon Kenton with nine kills, seven digs and two aces and junior hitter Alisha Hawkins had seven kills, two blocks and 13 digs. Freshman middle hitter Jenna Kitchen had six kills and no errors on 14 attempts and blocked two.
The Pioneers may have had a down record. But they had no seniors meaning everyone returns next year.
“We had some great runs of points, but couldn’t quite get over the hump to finish ahead in the first and third games,” said Amy Marx, Simon Kenton head coach. “You can look for big things from our squad next year.”
Simon Kenton lost in the region championship the last two years.