MOREHEAD – Rowan County rules the 61st District yet again.
The Valkyries beat Fleming County in the district championship game on Wednesday, 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-13), for their seventh straight 61st District title, despite having to overhaul much of the roster from last year’s team.
“When you look at some of the coaching in this region – [co-head coach] Steve [Walters] has been here for 25 years. I’ve been here for a decade. Jennifer [Brockman] has been here for four. There’s a lot of consistency and really good coaching, so we’re seeing that we can reload from year to year just because we have that consistency,” said co-head coach Dusty Coyle. “We’re not turning over our coaching staff. They’re not having to learn new systems. We just keep learning the new things and as they get better from a younger age, we just continue to add more elaborate stuff.”
Coyle and Walter started splitting head coaching duties this season, according to Coyle, who says he has taken on more court coaching duties while Walters continues to handle the administrative side.
“It’s a very unique situation and it’s working beautifully,” said Coyle.
Rowan County beat Fleming County in three regular season matches and hadn’t dropped a set in any of them.
But that didn’t mean the Lady Panthers would just roll over and let the Valkyries have another trophy without a fight.
Rowan County jumped out to an 7-2 lead in the first set after a kill from Morgan Adams, but Fleming County stormed back behind the serving of Carley Dunaway and eventually drew even with the Valkyries at 11-11 with a block from Macie Hughes.
“It’s been their middle blockers. We knew that Bailey [Brashear] and Skyler [Toy] were potentially going to be big. We’ve been able to handle Morgan [Adams] and Kylie [Breeze] on the outside most of the season. Outside hitters always get a few of theirs, but where they were really pushing points against us was out of the middle,” said Fleming County coach Nick Thrasher. “Some of that was that they’re a really good passing team and they were getting balls up and they were prepared to hit it quick. Other parts of that was us not being aggressive enough on offense and sending some of those free balls.”
After an error to give Fleming County the lead, Rowan County reeled off a 7-0 run that forced Thrasher to call a timeout. The Lady Panthers battled back from there, drawing even at 21-all before a timeout from Coyle.
Shelby Litzler gave Fleming County a one-point lead with a block out of the timeout, but a kill from Breeze and an ace from Heather Fannin gave Rowan County back the advantage. It was followed by a Fleming County error and a block from tournament MVP Bailey Brashear.
“Their [Fleming County’s] fans were crazy. I’ll give it to them, they were phenomenal fans. They had this place rocking. They beat our fans out, hands down. Fleming County’s players and fans – they came out strong. Their passion showed. They were hungry,” said Coyle. “I told them that basically if we can find a way to win in that first set, we could possibly break their spirit a little bit, especially their fans’ and hopefully make those next couple of sets a little easier. I think that happened.”
Fleming County held close for the start of the second set and was even with the Valkyries, 11-11, after a kill from Litzler, but Rowan County went on a 14-3 run to close out the frame. Errors proved costly for the Lady Panthers as they racked up 11 with the ball in play and failed to get serves in three more times, while the Valkyries took care of the ball and only gave up two points in the set off errors.
“Unforced errors are always going to kill you,” said Coyle. “They’re ones that you know that you make a mistake, not the other team earned them, but if they’re your mistakes, that plays on your psychology a little bit. As long as we can keep our chin up and continue to drive in the next point, we’re good.”
The third set started close again, making its way to 7-7 before another big Rowan County run. The Valkyries put up the 10 straight points in the set to take a 16-7 lead and eventually extended the lead to 10 at 19-9 before a timeout from Thrasher.
“For me, it was a passing and offensive pressure thing. It goes back to that. We weren’t able to keep that pressure on due to either service errors or hitting errors in the second and we struggled to serve-receive in the third and sent entirely too many free balls,” said Thrasher. “You want to eat a ball, send a free ball.”
Rowan County eventually closed out the set and match, 25-13, with a block from Brashear.
The result moves Rowan County to 24-12 on the season and Fleming County to 13-23. Both will wait until Friday morning to find out who they will play in the 16th Region Tournament, which is scheduled to begin next week at Fairview.
VALKYRIES DEF. LADY PANTHERS, 3-0 (25-23, 25-14, 25-13)
Aces: Fleming County 6 (Watson 4) Rowan County 7 (Fannin 4)
Kills: Fleming County 22 (Mitchell 5), Rowan County 35 (Breeze 9)
Service Errors: Fleming County 7, Rowan County 4
Errors: Fleming County 26, Rowan County 18
Records: Fleming County 13-23, Rowan County 24-12