PAINTSVILLE Paintsville's volleyball team bore the target of 15th Region team to beat late last decade before falling in the region tournament semifinals last year to end a two-year title reign.
"I prefer to be the underdog," Lady Tigers coach Dawn Kinner said. "It's been great because it pushes our girls. They want that respect, and to get that respect, you've gotta earn it and you've gotta play these big games and show up. I think it was great for them to finally get back to that level."
It happened Thursday night when Paintsville knocked off Pikeville, 3-2 (25-27, 25-22, 25-20, 21-25, 15-10) in the region tournament final at Johnson Central.
Paintsville (19-2) travels to 16th Region champion Russell for the first round of the state tournament on Monday night.
The Lady Panthers (21-2) had swept the Lady Tigers in their last three meetings over the past two years, including the 2019 All "A" Classic region final and this season's small-school region semifinals.
"For us, that was just extra motivation going into last night to do whatever we needed to do," Kinner said Friday, "and we made some adjustments with their lineup just to make sure that didn't happen again.
"It was a great matchup and (Pikeville is) a great team, so I'm just proud that my girls showed up and played to their full potential."
Paintsville has spread its production around. Hailey Little leads the way with 4.2 kills per set (entering the region semifinals), followed by three more players with more than two kills per set: Kara Ward, Hadley Hardin and Blair Ratliff.
Setter Bella Blackburn directs the offense. She has 509 assists (9.4 per set) and a team-high 48 aces. Hardin, Little and Ward each also have 40 or more.
That provides a different dynamic than when Megan Taylor dominated statistically during that aforementioned region championship run, Kinner said.
"It's a different team," she said. "We have so many different girls that all bring something to the table. When they play together, great things happen."