MOREHEAD – Rowan County co-coach Dusty Coyle thought he was a part of a Pixar experiment Wednesday night in the Warren H. Cooper Gymnasium at Rowan County High School.
But it was not Mike Wazowski or Sully roaming the court in the 16th Regional semifinals, rather Rowan County and Russell in another thrilling showdown that had every person in attendance feeding into the energy the match was creating.
“I was thinking Monsters, Inc.,” Coyle laughed. “If their screams could power their towns, the electric environment in this gym could power a small village for at least a day. The crowd and the environment were everything we had hoped, from both sides. You’ve got to love a Rowan-Russell game in the region. It’s just great.”
Electric indeed as Russell faced its first 2-0 deficit in a five-set match all season only to force a fifth and decisive final set after three Sadie Hill aces closed out a 25-9 fourth-set win to even the match.
However, Rowan County made things look easy down the stretch. So easy, some might say getting the win was a “Breeze.”
After volleying back and forth in the final set, Rowan County’s Kylie Breeze finished the final three points for the Valkyries to complete the upset of the team with the best region record, 3-2 (25-19, 25-23, 14-25, 9-25, 15-13).
“In the last four years, we’ve never lost a fifth set in our own home,” Coyle said. “We remind them of that and it’s just a confidence that we always take. We know when we are going into a fifth set, we feel we have the upper hand and we play like it.”
As the tension mounted late, Coyle turned to a player who many did not expect with the game on the line.
“Toward those last few points, Kylie had the hot hand and (Russell) couldn’t stop her,” Coyle said. “When we came out of the timeout, I asked my setter if she knew where the ball was going. She said ‘Kylie?’ I said, ‘feed the hot hand.’ We went to her and she killed it, just like we planned.”
Breeze found herself on the middle of the floor awaiting her shot, which she immediately deposited for the win.
“The final three points were the best feeling I’ve ever had the whole season,” Breeze said.
Rowan County middle hitter Bailey Brashear said the final point was executed to perfection.
“We are a five-set team,” Brashear said. “We don’t lose five-set matches very often. Dusty was very specific on how he wanted us to end this game.”
Even though Brashear led the Valkyries with 15 kills, she knew Breeze would close out the win.
“When you have two people who are hot, you are always going to have blocks that are scared because they don’t know where to go,” Brashear said. “Kylie did really well using the block. I knew when Maddie set that ball, I was like, she’s got this.”
Rowan County rushed out to a 2-0 lead in the match only to find themselves on the ropes after Russell closed out Set 4 to force a decisive rush to 15 for the spot in the championship.
Russell coach Tiffany Perry said finding momentum early in Set 3 allowed her team to perform at its usual high standards.
“It was huge for us,” Perry said. “I think they settled down in that third set and that’s when we came out and played. That’s when you saw the Russell you are used to seeing.”
Coyle said he could feel the momentum shifting.
“You start to question
yourself, is this possible,” he said.
“That’s nothing against my team but just an understanding of how good (Russell) is. I respect them a great deal. They are a fantastic team.”
It was also when senior Kate Ruggles took over the match to lead the Lady Devils back from the pits of defeat in straight sets. Ruggles had a match-high 16 kills, including three consecutive monster swings in the third set.
“Kate is a self-motivator,” Perry said. “She doesn’t need a lot from other people. She can really get herself going and that is what is so special about Kate is her ability to make things happen. She’s the one that stood out to me, and the one that came out and pushed her hardest and played for every point. She performed amazingly for us tonight.”
Russell’s final lead in the final set came off a Mallory Allen kill to lead 12-11, but Rowan County finished with a 4-1 run for the victory.
“I think it all came down to the adrenaline,” Perry said. “Sometimes you can have too much and you really have to learn to calm yourself down. I think we were just so high in that moment on adrenaline that we didn’t perform like we normally do.”
Russell graduates seniors Rachel Clark, Makaela Haney, Madeline Hill, Kate Ruggles, Rachel Saunders and Madelyn Tackett.
“I’ve known them since they were in sixth grade,” a teary-eyed Perry said. “To see who they’ve become is the most rewarding thing for me. Having my first team all the way through is so special to me. They’ve been around since I started and were in my first sixth grade class. That’s why this hits so hard.”
Rowan County’s win sets up a championship rematch with Boyd County from last season tonight at 7.