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This time, the third set was the charm for Shelby County volleyball.
The Lady Rockets grabbed a quick lead then held off every charge a determined Anderson County team could muster in the match-changing set, then closed things out in the fourth to earn their first district championship since 2009.
After splitting the first two games, Shelby took a quick lead, expanded it to as many as five points, but held off several furious Anderson charges. The Lady Bearcats, however, could never get closer than two points as Shelby earned a 25-19 victory in the third game.
The Lady Rockets were never threatened in the clinching set, rolling to a 25-13 win.
“We talk about composure,” said Shelby coach Felicia Pace. “Composure is going to determine how you handle things. That is the difference.”
Shelby senior Ariana Jones added, “It was pretty big because (Anderson) is one of our biggest competitors. They are always after us.”
“Shelby County is a very scrappy team,” said Anderson’s first-year coach, Courtney DeLong. “They had some hits that we didn’t think we could play defense off.”
Shelby (18-6) had sprinted to a 25-15 first game win, jumping in front 8-1 before Anderson, making its first appearance in the district final since losing to Shelby in the 2009 match, finally settled down. Shelby got rolling on a kill from Kyndle Pace and Dasia Jones’ early serves.
Anderson (19-16) recovered, though, in the second set, drawing away from a 15-15 tie when Regan Darst served up four straight points after Shelby was called for being in the net. Anderson’s 25-19 margin after Liberty O’Neal’s kill was the largest for either team in the second set.
“That is one reason why she was on the all-tournament team,” DeLong said. “It was like a light went off for her.”
Shelby, however, regrouped and showed why it went unbeaten (8-0) against district teams. The Lady Rockets simply made the plays, whether it was Pace, Jones or Shelby Tooke doing so at the net or Leslie Sloan making passes to find her teammates or fooling the Lady Bearcats with deft tips.
“They were aggressive and continued to be aggressive during the match,” DeLong noted. “You could tell we were starting to get down on ourselves and we had a hard time getting ourselves back up.
“We had a hard time letting go and pushing forward.”
Even though Shelby picked up its seventh district title in Coach Pace’s 11 years at the helm, the Lady Rockets celebrated with the joy of a team experiencing its first major success.
In a sense, they were. It was the school’s first district crown since the Collins split.
“It is nice and it is very exciting for us after we lost the last two years,” Pace said. “We have been talking about winning the district. It is great. It is a great feeling.”
“It was pretty amazing,” said Jones. “I am very proud of my team.”
Shelby earned the right to host next week’s Eighth Region Tournament. Pairings will be announced Saturday, according to DeLong. The region boasted three ranked teams – No. 15 North Oldham, No. 19 South Oldham and No. 21 Simon Kenton – and figures to be a very competitive affair.
Anderson has come far but hopes to make some more noise at the regional, where it has not played since 2009, when the current seniors were freshmen. “This is a big step for us,” DeLong said. “One of our goals was to win the district. We were capable of winning it but things didn’t go as planned.
“We get to go to the regional and are still a force to be reckoned with. The girls are not going to back down from anyone.”
Members of the district’s all-tournament team were Spencer County’s Jessie Riggs and Bethany Martin, Aaliyah Wells and Miranda Kerher of Collins, Anderson County’s Liberty O’Neal, Bethany Hardin and Shelbi Savoie and Shelby County’s Shelby Tooke, Leslie Sloan, Ariana Jones and Kyndle Pace.