By Les Dixon For the Times-Tribune
MCKEE — It's been a long time coming.
The Whitley County Lady Colonels finally erased 13th Region Tournament ghosts of the past by capturing the volleyball program's first region championship, upending upstart South Laurel in the title game in four sets, 25-18, 25-20, 19-25 and 25-18.
The Lady Colonels have been the most consistent team in the 13th Region the entire season, but upset losses in region tournaments past, including a 3-0 setback in the first round against South Laurel in 2012, made many skeptical if they could accomplish the feat this season.
But they did just that by rolling to their eighth straight win while improving to 32-7 in the process and a perfect 3-0 against the Lady Cardinals.
“Getting this win is huge,” Whitley County coach David Halcomb said. “We've been close a couple of times, but hadn't won it. We were able to do so this time. It's a great feeling. The girls deserve this. They have worked hard to get to this point.
“It started back last November, almost a year, and we were able to win it tonight,” he added. “We didn't want to have the (bad) feeling again. Not winning in the past has always been in the back of our minds. We were back on our heels early, but we stayed focus and won.”
South Laurel (8-21) struggled throughout the season, but caught fire at the right time, entering the championship game with a five-game win streak after wins over rivals North Laurel and Corbin.
“They did belong,” South Laurel coach Mitzi Jones said of her team. “I'm proud of them. We knew coming in this would be a rebuilding year. We had one senior, four sophomores and two freshmen on the floor.
“We knew they had it in them,” she added. “We grew up a lot in this tournament. We didn't give up. I know they're upset, but they have nothing to be upset about.”
The Lady Cardinals led throughout the first set until Whitley County's serve game of Briana Maynes (13th Region Tournament MVP) and Kelsey Osborne handcuffed South Laurel.
Jones' squad built a 13-7 advantage, but the Lady Colonels responded with a 18-5 run to wrap up a 25-18 win.
Maynes recorded a kill during the set along with four service points to bring Whitley County to within two points (14-12) of the Lady Cardinals' lead.
Kills by Taylor Dingess and Chelsea Bozeman along with eight straight service points by Osborne allowed the Lady Colonels to pull away in the first set.
Whitley County took control early in the second set, jumping out to a 12-7 edge, but South Laurel responded with a 6-1 run, tying the set up at 13 apiece.
The Lady Colonels responded with consecutive kills by Maynes and Dingess while Summer Gray recorded five straight service points, pushing Whitley County's lead to 19-15. Impressive net play by Becky Miller and back-to-back miscues by South Laurel led to the Lady Colonels winning the second set, 25-20.
Jones' squad controlled third set action from the get-go. The Lady Cardinals jumped out to a 5-2 lead and withstood a Whitley County rally that saw the Lady Colonels tie the set at 10 apiece.
But South Laurel responded in a big way. A kill by Katie Reynolds allowed the Lady Cardinals to take a 15-10 lead. South Laurel's lead grew to as much as eight points (19-11) before seeing Halcomb's Lady Colonels cut its deficit to 20-17 after a kill by Maynes. The Lady Cardinals answered, though, and wrapped up the third set with a 25-19 victory.
But just when it looked as if South Laurel had gained the momentum, the net play of Whitley County took over. Kills by Brandi Smith, Maynes and Dingess allowed the Lady Colonels to break an 11-all tie while two perfectly placed hits by Osborne allowed her team to pull away and win both the set and match, 25-18, and 3-1, respectively.
Whitley County will be back in action Friday in state tournament play against the 1st Region champion.