When Wade Smith took over the Bracken County volleyball program, district titles weren’t really even thought of.
Now it’s the norm.
The Lady Bears won their fourth straight 39th District title on Wednesday, topping Mason County in the title tilt for the second straight year, 3-1 (22-25, 25-12, 25-12, 25-15).
Prior to Smith’s arrival, the Lady Bears had just one district title in school history…in 2006 when they were members of the 38th District. Smith took over the program in 2007 and despite compiling winning records in six of his first eight seasons, a district title was elusive. But in 2015, things changed.
“We have five in school history. Four in four straight years is big for us. It’s all the girls. They played their rear ends off tonight and could have given up after that first set,” Smith said. “Mason County played a heck of a first set and I give them credit for that. We just had to stay the course and make a few adjustments.”
On Wednesday, things didn’t start as smoothly as emotions were flowing through The Fieldhouse and Mason County riding off of them. The Lady Royals used a 6-0 run when leading 12-11 to take control of the opening set. After nearly losing that control with a Lady Bears 6-0 rally of their own, Mason County regained composure, built the lead back up to 24-18 and hung on as a Bracken service error ended the first set in the Lady Royals favor at 25-22.
“Attitude. My girls have come a tremendously far amount. They knew tonight was going to be a fight, they knew what to expect and held their heads high and expected a fight,” Lady Royals coach Shelby Hesler said.
They’d continue to look in control taking a 6-3 lead in the second set.
Then the script flipped.
The Lady Bears would go on a 15-2 run and build an 18-8 lead in the second set, getting a mixture of kills from Aryah Myrick and Aly Keuper, aces from Aleah Cummins and Isabella Hardy. Mason County would get within 18-11 after three straight kills from Meya Myrick, Lexy Cooper and Emily Huber, but would get no closer in the set as Bracken ran away with it, 25-12.
The momentum continued.
“Volleyball is a game of momentum. That’s the way it goes. If you can get that momentum and catch that and catch it at the right time, it can take you a long way,” Smith said.
The Lady Bears jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the third set. That lead kept blossoming all the way up to 16-3 after a Madison Goecke ace. Goecke, along with Natalie Bell are four-year starters on the team and the first in school history to win district titles in all four years of being in high school.
“That’s just something nobody can really say,” Goecke said. “When I first started, winning districts at Bracken County wasn’t something we really did, now it’s something we expect to do every year.”
They’d take the set 25-12 again, Mason County getting no closer then 10, to give them the 2-1 set advantage.
Mason County was determined to try and get this one to a fifth set, jumping out to an 8-5 lead in the fourth set after an Erin Hasler ace. But Bracken wanted none of it, racking up five straight points to take the lead back in their favor.
“The only thing that really changed for the girls is they hit that edge of panic like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is districts’, we reminded them that this was a normal game and we’d be fine,” Hesler said. “We just needed to breathe and they’ll be fine. I thought they adjusted, we just came up short.”
After a Lady Royals error made it 15-11, Bell, another four-year starter, collected three straight aces and the four-peat feeling started to come on.
“It’s my last go-around and I’m glad I got to experience with some of my best friends,” Bell said. “I’m really hoping that we show out in region this year. I think if we stay up we can do really good.”
Three straight Lady Royals errors made it 21-11 and an Aly Keuper kill followed that, getting Bracken three points away.
At 24-15, none else than Myrick put the finishing touches on the contest, racking up her 11th kill of the match to send the Lady Bears in a frenzy as they hoisted the championship trophy for the fourth straight year.
Now the task at hand will be the 10th Region tournament, hopeful to do something they’ve only done once before, win a regional game.
“We can win a game in region. I told this team when we lost last year in the first round of the regional tournament I don’t want to lose in the first round of region next year. That needs to be a goal of ours to win a game if not two and anything can happen if you get that far. This team is capable of doing that. They are playing team ball and coming together at the right time,” Smith said.
The win improved the Lady Bears to 16-14 and will await their opponent when the 10th Region draw takes place Friday morning at 9 a.m. The 10th Region tournament will take place at Campbell County, starting on Monday.
The Lady Royals dropped to 7-25 on the season, still in search of their second district championship in school history. All is not lost though as they’ll advance to the regional tournament as the runner-up, also awaiting their opponent on Friday during the draw.
“We’re going to tell them where they excelled, these are the parts where we have slight improvements to work on, lets use this as a springboard, let’s go to region and be a force because no one expects us to,” Hesler said.
BRACKEN COUNTY DEF. MASON COUNTY 3-1 (22-25, 25-12, 25-12, 25-15)
Aces: Bracken 24 (Linville 8), Mason 16 (Cracraft 9)
Kills: Bracken 31 (Myrick 11), Mason 21 (E. Huber 8)
Service Errors: Bracken 7, Mason 5
Errors: Bracken 20, Mason 35
Records: Bracken County 16-14, Mason County 7-25