Just when it seemed the Sacred Heart Academy volleyball team might be pulling away from the rest of the state, Assumption showed the Valkyries aren’t unbeatable.
Seniors Kara Shacklette and Allie Gregory and junior Brooke Moore came up big and the Rockets overcame 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to beat visiting Sacred Heart 15-25, 25-21, 23-25, 27-25, 15-8 on Sunday in a matchup of the top two teams in the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 25.
No. 2 Assumption avenged a pair of losses last month to No. 1 Sacred Heart, having fallen 3-1 on Sept. 2 and 2-1 on Sept. 12 in the final of the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament.
Rockets coach Ron Kordes said it was important for his players to prove they could beat Sacred Heart, especially with the two likely to meet again in the Seventh Region Tournament later this month.
“I don’t care what they say, there’s no question there’s doubt in their mind,” Kordes said. “We were never in the match at Sacred Heart, and the one at the LIVT we kind of had it in our pocket and they just came and took it away from us. That has to raise questions in your mind.”
But now the Rockets (26-7) believe. Moore led them Sunday with 23 kills, and Shacklette added 18. Gregory pitched in 20 digs and three aces.
Junior star Paige Hammons had 30 kills, one block and one ace to lead the Valkyries (29-5), who entered with a 10-match winning streak that included a championship in the prestigious Asics Challenge held Oct. 2-3 in Chicago.
The Valkyries were coming off a four-set victory over Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame on Saturday, a match coach Eric Garvey said took something out of his team.
“I think we were a little tired mentally,” he said. “I didn’t love going to the fifth set because I could see we were starting to make some mental errors and fatigue settled in. (Assumption) was fighting hard, and we had trouble getting balls down.”
The Valkyries had little trouble putting away the Rockets in the first set and seemed to have gained control after taking a tight third set that featured 15 ties.
Assumption’s Shelby Olson tied the third set at 23 with a kill, but Lauryn Bennett’s kill gave Sacred Heart a 24-23 lead and Hammons blocked a kill attempt by Kayla Kaiser to seal it.
Kordes said a 2-1 deficit might have been too much for his team to overcome in previous weeks.
“They didn’t quit,” he said. “That’s been a problem for ours a little bit if things aren’t going our way. … I thought (Sacred Heart) was going to run us out of here pretty early, but we settled down and played some ball and did some things we worked on.”
The fourth set also featured 15 ties, with Sacred Heart’s Kaelin Gentile getting a kill to make it 25-25. But Moore got a kill to give the Rockets a 26-25 lead and Moore and Kaiser teamed on a block for the final point, forcing the fifth set.
The Rockets dominated from there, getting a kill and a block from Kaiser to take a 4-1 lead. The Valkyries pulled within one point on three occasions but never got closer. The Rockets scored the final four points to close out the match, getting a pair of kills from Moore.
Kordes said limiting Hammons to just one kill was a key to the fifth set.
“It’s about time we started digging her a couple of times,” he said. “She’s been having her way with us.”
Moore said the Rockets have been working on their mental game as much as their play on the court since finishing fourth in the Asics Challenge.
“We really worked on believing that we can win,” she said. “We just talk about keeping each other up. If you make a mistake, just get over it and keep your head up and keep going.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.