By MICHAEL CHILDERS, CJ Correspondent
“Strive for five.”
That’s been the motto for the Southwestern Lady Warriors volleyball team all-year long.
Skip Cottrell and the Lady Warriors lived up to that motto in last night’s championship game of the 12th Region Volleyball Tournament, as they downed cross-town rival Pulaski County by a score of 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-19) to win their fifth straight regional championship.
With last night’s victory at Mercer County Senior High School, Southwestern punched their tickets to the KHSAA Volleyball State Tournament for the fifth straight season. Living up to those expectations was something that the Lady Warriors had to deal with all-season long.
“It’s an awesome feeling, and it feels better each year,” began Cottrell, who saw his team move to 29-10 with the win over the cross-town rival Lady Maroons. “When you’re expected to win, there is more pressure on me being the coach, but the girls handled it well.”
Pulaski, just as they had done the previous night before against West Jessamine, came out of the gate ready to play, as they jumped out to an early lead over the Lady Warriors. That lead would be short-lived, as Southwestern took the lead at 10-9 and never looked back.
In part to a 5-0 run paced by kills from seniors Erin Cottrell and Kelsie Adams, Southwestern would take the first game by a score of 25-19.
The Lady Warriors ruled the second set of the evening, as they downed Pulaski by 12 points. A 13-1 run from Cottrell’s team would allow them to run away from the Lady Maroons in a 25-13 win.
Much like the opening set, Pulaski and Southwestern went back and forth early on until the Lady Warriors ran away for good. A kill from freshman Samantha Fitzgerald made the score, 6-5; from the point on, the ladies in blue and orange would never trail again to take the third game by a score of 25-19.
For the Lady Maroons, junior Samantha Randolph led the charge with a game-high 11 kills. Sarah Correll had six kills in her final game as a Lady Maroon, while CeCe Roberts, Jessica Ping, and Ashtyn Lyons all had two kills each.
Ping had a match-high four aces, while Roberts, Correll, and Randolph tallied a lone ace. Bryanna Black had 19 assists in her final volleyball game, while Randolph had two and Roberts had one.
Southwestern was led by Adams, who had a team-high ten kills. Cottrell chimed in with nine kills, while Fitzgerald had five kills and Hannah Brown had one.
Kari Popplewell, Mckayla Wilson, and Adams, all had three aces each in the win. Chelsey Mitchell tallied a pair of aces, while Cottrell had a lone ace. Popplewell had a game-high 22 assists from the setter position.
For the second year in-a-row, the Lady Maroons’ season ended in a regional championship loss to Southwestern. After losing six seniors from last year’s squad, veteran Lady Maroon head coach Teresa Combs was extremely proud of her team, despite the adversity of not having a home gym for much of the year.
“We came into our season with no home gym, we’ve been all over the county trying to prepare,” told the Pulaski volleyball coach. “I think that speaks volume for these young women, because they had to persevere from day one. Despite all the obstacles we’ve faced, there has been no whining.”
Combs didn’t know whether her team would make it as far as they did after falling behind 2-0 to Wayne County on Tuesday in the opening round of the regional tournament. However, Pulaski fought back to down the Lady Cardinals and earn a spot in the semifinals, where they defeated West Jessamine.
“It’s a tough loss, but you know what?” stated Combs. “Monday we weren’t so sure, we had to fight like crazy to get here. We lost six seniors and ended up in the same place that we finished last year, so I’m extremely proud of this group.”
Combs wanted to thank two seniors -- Correll and Black -- for their leadership and effort over the past four years.
“Sarah Correll and Bryanna Black are going to be greatly missed,” concluded the Pulaski coach. “They have led by example and they’re two extraordinary young women.”
The Lady Maroons’ final record for the 2012 season is 23-14.
Southwestern battled their own adversity this year, as they battled numerous injuries, which forced Cottrell to throw in some younger faces to play with an experienced group of seniors.
“We’ve had more injuries and illnesses this year than we have had in the past five years combined,” said the Lady Warrior volleyball coach. “The girls have had every opportunity to complain and whine, but instead, more girls have stepped up. Many of these girls had never seen a varsity match before, but we had to have them step in and play with some experienced seniors. Watching those young girls come from where they started to where they are now, is a great and rewarding feeling.”
The Lady Warriors will open play in the KHSAA Volleyball State Tournament against a 6th Region opponent next Friday night at 7 p.m. at Valley High School in Louisville.
In conclusion, Cottrell wanted to thank everyone who has played a role in helping the Lady Warriors volleyball program reach the point to where it is today.
“I want to thank everybody that has supported our program this year,” thanked the Southwestern coach. “I’m really thankful for everyone who has been supportive of the Southwestern volleyball program and helping it get to where it is.”
Look for more information on the Lady Warriors’ fifth consecutive trip to the KHSAA Volleyball State Tournament later next week in the sports section of the Commonwealth Journal.