By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS — During the second half of the 2013 season, no volleyball team in the state has been hotter than Class 4A No. 6 Floyd Central.
On Saturday night at Highlander Gymnasium, the Highlanders’ red-hot play produced a sectional championship.
Floyd Central extended its winning streak to 16 matches with a 25-14, 25-10, 25-18 victory over Jennings County in the Class 4A Floyd Central Sectional final. The Highlanders (28-8) will host Castle in the Class 4A regional on Tuesday night. The Knights defeated Evansville Reitz in Saturday’s Evansville Harrison Sectional title match, 25-9, 25-9, 25-16.
“They’ve won 16 matches in a row now and they are playing with ultra-confidence,” Floyd Central coach Bart Powell said of his team. “Sometimes we do play to the level of our competition, but [the Highlanders] are really playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Powell thought winning Saturday’s sectional championship was redemption for a few of the veteran Highlanders who played in the program’s heartbreaking five-set loss to Seymour in the 2011 Class 4A New Albany Sectional final.
“Three of them were on that sectional team that had match point three times two years ago, and that was brutal,” he said.
The Floyd Central frontline player who played a key role for the Highlanders on Saturday was middle hitter Gwyn Jones. The sophomore ended up with a match-high 14 kills along with three blocks. Jones was a force at the net during Floyd Central’s 16-1 start to the second set. She had seven kills during that stretch.
Jones was very active throughout the sectional because she has recovered from a torn ligament in her thumb, which she suffered earlier in the season.
“This match meant so much to our school,“ Jones said. “We haven’t been here in a while. I really wanted to get the win and nothing was going to stop us. I think honestly our program needed this. We needed a confidence boost. All year, we’ve preached about believing in ourselves and not playing down a level. Tonight, we really showed what we’re made of.”
Another Highlander who was highly productive during that 16-1 spurt was Brooke Hinton. The senior libero served the final 13 points of that run, which included all of her match-high five service aces.
“I think they kind of got down at that point and they were having trouble passing the ball,” Hinton said. “It’s hard to get out of a stretch like that. We were just on a roll.”
Floyd Central senior middle hitter Sydney Engle ended up with 11 kills, while junior setter Remi Bowman chipped in eight. Teammate Mikaila Humphrey recorded six kills.
Despite the Highlanders trailing 6-1 at the match’s outset, Powell was much happier with his team’s focus against the Panthers than he was in Saturday’s first semifinal versus New Albany. Against the Bulldogs, Floyd Central fell behind in the opening stages of both the first and second sets, but still prevailed 25-18, 25-17, 25-15.
“They were better than they were this morning — without question,“ Powell said about his troops. “They were pretty confident obviously having beaten [Jennings County] twice, and then we played a little overconfident, especially in Game 1 when we got down 6-1. Then we got relaxed and started playing pretty well. At times, we played our best game of the sectional.”
It was the Highlanders’ 16th sectional title and their ninth in the class-sports era.
FLOYD CENTRAL-NEW ALBANY
Engle led the Highlanders with a match-high 15 kills and three blocks in their third victory over the Bulldogs this season. Jones and teammates Lauren Koopman and Tierney Flaherty each spiked six kills, while Bowman had four aces.
Powell knew the archrival Bulldogs (15-19) would give his team a battle after they upset Bedford North Lawrence in four sets in Thursday’s first round. New Albany held a 9-6 lead in the first game and had a 9-4 advantage in the second.
Plus Powell thought his team experienced a letdown after knocking off No. 7 Seymour in an exciting five-set sectional opener on Thursday.
“I think coming off an emotional win on Thursday was not good for us,” he said. “I could tell that we weren’t into the match. We had beaten New Albany twice and we had taken them for granted. If New Albany can upset Bedford North Lawrence, then they can upset Floyd Central.”
New Albany junior middle blocker Alexis Lete made 12 kills, while Bulldog junior setter Lindsay Harper dished out 17 assists. New Albany’s Madison Dibble and Brook McCoy had 14 and 12 digs, respectively. The Bulldogs said goodbye to two seniors in Kelsey Guess and Olivia Balmer.
“I thought our kids played very well against some very good competition,” New Albany coach John Breeding said. “We gave ourselves chances to win and opportunities to win. This Floyd Central team is a really good volleyball team, so they are going to make their runs, too.
“I’m as proud of these girls today as any team that I’ve ever coached. They never gave up. They could’ve just folded the tent. They ran after balls, they dove on the floor, they tried as hard as they could and that’s all you can ask.”
The Red Devils’ season came to an end in the second semi, falling to Jennings County 25-11, 27-25, 25-21.
Junior Brooklyn Garrison was Jeff’s top hitter with nine kills to go along with nine digs. Red Devil sophomore middle hitter Hailey Lacy had five kills and three blocks, while teammate Mary Pat Geary made five kills and two blocks.
Also for Jeff, senior setter Jena Reinhardt had 18 assists and 11 digs, sophomore libero Bayley Whitlow made 22 digs and sophomore outside hitter McKenna Woodard had 11 digs.
The Red Devils (9-24) led for the majority of both the second and third sets, but could not finish the Panthers off in either game. The Red Devils were up 22-19 in Set 2 before Jennings went on an 8-3 run to win the game. The Devils took an 8-3 lead early in the third set and had an 18-16 advantage prior to the Panthers outscoring them 9-3 the rest of the way.
“That’s what we’ve struggled with all year,” Red Devil coach Renee Stock said about her team’s inability to close out sets on top. “We started off the season with the motto of pushing through a game because that’s one of their weaknesses. When [the Red Devils] get ahead, they think they’ve done a good enough job. We haven’t been able to overcome that.
“[The Devils] have gotten better on offense and defense. They communicate better. They work hard. They just don’t have that fight to get over that hump. I was very proud of them for not giving up after that first set. In the second and third games, they came out with a different attitude.”
Jeff dressed only two seniors on Saturday in Reinhardt and outside hitter Rachel Williams, who did not play because of an injury.
CLASS 4A FLOYD CENTRAL SECTIONAL
FLOYD CENTRAL 3, NEW ALBANY 0
New Albany 18 17 15
Floyd Central 25 25 25
Aces — New Albany: Madison Dibble 2, Audrey Donastorg 2; Floyd Central: Remi Bowman 4, Kaylie Dempster 3, Sydney Engle 2.
Assists — New Albany: Lindsay Harper 17, Sadie Meyer 3.
Blocks — New Albany: Alexis Lete 2; Floyd Central: Engle 3.
Digs — New Albany: Dibble 14, Brook McCoy 12, Donastorg 6, Harper 5, Madison Almon 4.
Kills — New Albany: Lete 12, Donastorg 5, McCoy 5, Kelsey Guess 4; Floyd Central: Engle 15, Tierney Flaherty 6, Gwyn Jones 6, Lauren Koopman 6, Mikaila Humphrey 5, Bowman 3.
JENNINGS COUNTY 3, JEFFERSONVILLE 0
Jennings County 25 27 25
Jeff 11 25 21
Aces — Jennings County: Dani Kirchner 5, Kyla Ortlieb 2, Halea Petro 2, Hannah Shockley 2; Jeff: Jena Reinhardt 2.
Assists — Jeff: Reinhardt 18.
Blocks — Jennings County: Emily Ertel 4, Emma Campbell 3, Ortlieb 3, Kyleigh Nelson 2; Jeff: Hailey Lacy 3, Mary Pat Geary 2.
Digs — Jeff: Bayley Whitlow 22, Reinhardt 11, McKenna Woodard 11, Brooklyn Garrison 9.
Kills — Jennings County: Ertel 12, Campbell 9, Nelson 7, Ortlieb 6, Petro 3, Lyndsay Miller 2; Jeff: Garrison 9, Geary 5, Lacy 5, Woodard 2.
FLOYD CENTRAL 3, JENNINGS COUNTY 0
Floyd Central 25 25 25
Jennings County 14 10 18
Aces — Floyd Central: Brooke Hinton 5, Engle 2, Riley Kaiser 2; Jennings County: Petro 2.
Blocks — Floyd Central: Jones 3; Jennings County: Ertel 2, Nelson 2.
Kills — Floyd Central: Jones 14, Engle 11, Bowman 8, Humphrey 6, Flaherty 3, Dempster 2, Hannah Joly 2, Koopman 2; Jennings County: Ertel 10, Campbell 7, Nelson 3, Petro 2.