MOREHEAD The Ashland and Russell volleyball teams both hit the floor on Tuesday night prior to their match with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blaring over the PA system at Rowan County Senior High School.
It might have been more prophetic for the Lady Devils style of play if the lyrics were instead “we will block you.”
The defensive play of Russell — namely junior McKenna Barfield — helped push the Lady Devils to tonight’s 16th Region Tournament semifinal against Rowan County with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-11, 25-11) win over the Volleycats.
“We preach closing the block and we needed her more to the pins,” Russell coach Tiffany Perry said. “We needed her to get out there faster, and tonight she got out there faster and I think that really made a difference in the amount of blocks that she got.
“She was quick tonight, and that really made the difference in her defense.”
The Lady Devils made good use of a size advantage over Ashland throughout the match.
“Russell’s taller than us, and I think them having height was just absolutely (tough to overcome),” Ashland coach Sarah Linn said. “I’m very well pleased, I asked that we go in and put up a fight, I asked that they hustle for balls and give 100 percent energy, and they absolutely did that.”
The Lady Devils jumped out to a 19-7 lead in the first set following a Sadie Hill ace. Ashland didn’t go away, however.
The Volleycats pulled within four on Sydney Suman’s ace to make the score 21-17.
But Russell closed four of the next five points to take the first set, 25-18.
In the second set, the Lady Devils defense began to tighten up.
Barfield posted six blocks in that frame, and Russell won 25-11 to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
On the set point, Barfield combined with Sadie Hill for a block — a fitting end to a dominant group effort that one Russell player said was nerve-wracking for the opposition.
“Jumping on pushes, tips, free balls … that’s intimidating to the other team,” Russell senior Rachel Saunders said. “When you get up and block on that, it’s intimidating, so they either hit it over the block, or they hit it into the net or into the block.”
In addition to defensive success, the Lady Devils also keyed in on improving their rotations prior to the region tournament.
“We practiced a lot,” Barfield said. "We know what rotations are our weakest ones, and the ones that get us on a run. So, we practiced more with the weaker rotations to try to get them to the point that they’re not the weak rotations.”
Russell’s coach echoed much of the same.
“You always have your weak rotation, but I’m pretty confident in all of the girls I put on the court,” Perry said. “I don’t think I could put one girl out there and be afraid. They’re all very capable of getting out there and getting the job done, and that’s what makes this team special.”
The Lady Devils lost the first point of set three, but took a 2-1 lead on a Saunders kill and led the rest of the way. Russell took the final set with a 25-11 victory.
With the loss, the career of three Ashland seniors come to a close: Merrick Clinger, Anna Heineman, and Suman.
“They played tremendous,” Linn said. “I cannot say enough about my three seniors who stepped in and filled a leadership role when they weren’t used to it.
“It took them quite a bit of heart-to-hearts and a lot of encouragement to get them to that leadership role, and they were filling that by the time that districts rolled around.”
Russell is looking forward to its match against two-time defending 16th Region champion Rowan County, and the Lady Devils say they’re feeling good entering the matchup.
“This is the most confident I’ve felt,” Barfield said. Saunders quickly interjected with “Yes, 100 percent.”