Advancing in the regional proved to be too tall of an order Monday, as Bell lost to host Clay County 25-20, 25-14.
“We played inconstantly the entire match,” said coach Amy Hunt. “We'd play well for a few points, then lose it. We didn't come in here tonight and play like we wanted it and Clay County did.”
The Lady Tigers got a dominating performance from middle hitter Jordan Phillips, a 5-10 freshman. She registered seven kills and seemed to come up with a big point every time Bell would try to put together a rally.
Phillips teamed with Brittany Combs to give Clay an imposing presence at the net.
“They hit it in the same spot all night long,” Hunt said. “They've got two strong hitters and they always hit from the middle - we practiced blocking up the middle, but we just didn't get it done.”
Still, the Lady Cats were very competitive, especially in game one.
After falling behind 4-1, Bell got a kill from Alyssa Gonzales and a Megan Mills' save from out of bounds fell in to cut the lead to one.
When Sarah Partin was called for a carry trying to return a Sydney McAninch spike, the Lady Cats led it 6-5.
The teams went back and forth until a Phillips kill gave Clay an 11-9 lead.
The Lady Tigers extended their lead to 15-10, but Morgan Mills served the ball into the net. Then Tiffanie Oliver put together three straight strong serves that resulted in points for the Lady Cats and they cut the lead to 15-14.
But the next three Bell serves were hit into the net, keeping them from stringing points together, and Clay pulled out to a 22-16 lead.
A McAninch kill and a block by Angel Turner made it a four-point game and prompted Clay to call a time out.
When he Lady Tigers couldn't return one Turner serve and McAninch spiked the ball out off a Clay player it was 22-20.
But a kill from Combs stopped the Lady Cat momentum. And Clay won the final two points to take the first game.
Bell fell behind early in game two, but rallied to take an 11-9 lead.
Angela Turner had two kills during the run an Angel added a kill and a block. Oliver serves accounted for the final three points.
But her next serve went long and an emphatic spike by Phillips tied the score.
Some miscommunication between Bell players helped Clay score the next three points to take a 14-11 lead.
Hunt called a time out to settle the players.
“We got down too fast and were just letting the small things go,” she said. “They got mad at each other and stopped playing together.”
Gonzales scored on back-to-back spikes to make it a one point game. But Angel Turner was called for a carry, then Phillips scored four straight points as Clay put the game away.
“We knew coming in that we could play with them. They beat us in the regular season, but we didn't play our best against them,” Hunt said. “Unfortunately we didn't play our best against them again tonight.”
Despite the loss, Hunt's final season as the Lady Cats coach has to be considered a successful one. After losing most of last year's varsity to graduation Bell finished with a 12-11 record and of course the district title.
“Getting here is great, especially to do it in the fashion that we did - I'm still floating in the clouds from winning the district,” she said.
“This group of seniors came in wanting to do what last year's couldn't and win the district,” she said.
The did that, but drew the toughest number two seed in the region.
“Maybe we focused too much on winning the district and set our goals too short,” Hunt said.
Who will coach the team next year has yet to be determined, but they will have a solid nucleus to build around.
District tourney MVP and setter Oliver will be a senior next season as will middle blocker McAninch. Gonzales will be a junior, and several players including Madison Saylor, Tiffany Rhodes, Rebecca Smith and Tessa Saylor got some experience with the varsity this season.
Hunt wanted to thank all the parents, teacher and others who came out to support the team this season.
“We had great support all season and great support again tonight,” she said. “Anybody can show up at Middlesboro, but for people to drive all the way to Clay County, it shows that they really love these girls. We appreciate that and it also shows that volleyball has come a long way in Bell County.
“I want to give a special thanks to my mom. She's come out to every game and she works as hard as I do,” Hunt said, while choking back tear.
Hunt is the only coach the Lady Cat volleyball program has had in its five years. She's getting married in December and will move to Texas in January to be an instructor in the Kinesiology Department at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.
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In Monday's first game Whitley County defeated Cumberland 25-20, 25-11. They will face Clay County in Thursday's first semifinal.
First round action continues today as Middlesboro plays Corbin at 6:30 p.m. followed by Rockcastle County against Harlan.