By Chip Cosby
Special to WCPO.com
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Notre Dame volleyball team inched closer a state title Saturday afternoon, making short work of Green County in quarterfinal action of the KSHAA State Tournament at J.C. Cantrell Gymnasium at Valley High School.
The third-ranked Pandas used a balanced attack to take care of Green County in three sets: 25-13, 25-12 and 25-21.
Senior middle blocker Heidi Thelen led the way with 10 kills, while Lauren Hollman and Morgan Hentz added seven apiece. Abby Thelen had six kills, while senior setter Elly Ogle, an LSU signee, had 24 assists and added five kills of her own.
"We're playing so well at so many different positions," Notre Dame Coach Andrea Lanham said. "Balance and depth have been big keys for us all year."
The Pandas were never really threatened in the first two sets, but Green County made them sweat a little in set No. 3. An attack error by Morgan Hentz put the Pandas in an early 9-5 hole.
A kill by Heidi Thelen capped a big run that gave Notre Dame a 15-10 cushion, but Green County wouldn't go away, taking a 21-20 lead on consecutive errors by Hollman. But the Pandas answered with the final five points of the set to finish things off. Ogle set up Heidi Thelen for a game and the game-clinching point.
While Lanham would have liked to have seen her team a little sharper in the final set, she was also glad to see them step up the challenge.
"We're going to be in serious battles from here on out, so I think it was good for us to get pushed and to respond," she said. "Now that we're in the semifinals, just about every set is going to be like that third set (against Green County)."
Awaiting Notre Dame (30-7) tonight at 8:30 will be Henry Clay, who need a little wake-up call of its own before knocking off Logan County in four sets.
Logan County took it to the Blue Devils in the first set, jumping out to leads of 11-7 and 18-12 in the first set. Henry Clay rallied to tie it at 25 on a Ca'Layci Coffey kill, but two consecutive Blue Devil attack errors allowed the Cougars to close out the set.
Henry Clay found its groove in the second set, cruising 25-7. The Devils rode that momentum to 25-18 wins in both the second and third sets.
Hallie Shelton led the Blue Devils (32-9) with 14 kills, while Coffey added 12.
Both the Pandas and the Devils boast plenty of State Tournament experience. Notre Dame has been to the semis two of out the last three years, while No. 10 Henry Clay has been to the state tourney six out of the past eight years, falling to Assumption in last year's semifinals.
Both programs have a healthy amount of respect for one another.
"This is the one our team has been looking forward to for awhile," Henry Clay Coach Dale Grupe said. "We knew we had to take care of business first, but we're excited for the challenge of a program like Notre Dame. We feel like we're ready."
Said Lanham: "We know we're going to have to bring our 'A' game. When you get to this point, you know you're going to have four of the best, if not the best, teams in the state. I like how we've gone about our business so far."