Maybe a four-day break was just what the Caldwell County Lady Tigers (13-6) needed after spending so much time on the volleyball court in recent weeks.
Looking for a bounce-back statement after last Saturday's early and unexpected exit at the All-A State Tournament, the Lady Tigers returned home to the friendly confines of the CAB Gymnasium and got a hard-fought W over the Madisonville North Hopkins Lady Maroons in a District 7 showdown Thursday night 25-20, 25-9, 25-10.
With the sweep, Caldwell County has placed themselves in the driver's seat in the district, and libero Riley Thomas was a significant factor with a game-high 20 digs as she set the tone from the start.
"Riley Thomas is as solid of a libero as you can ever have," Caldwell County head coach Daniel Cortner said. "I tell her every day, you just make it look easy. She is so good at reading and being where she needs to be before the contact. I would put her up there with any of them. Caldwell has a long line of amazing, great liberos, and Riley is stepping right into that role and is just as calm and as pure as you can get."
Against senior kills leader Madison McCabe (273 kills in 47 sets this season), Madisonville North Hopkins never fully recovered after a close first set, and junior outside hitter Olivia Mitchell, who broke the all-time program kills record held by Jessie Stone last week and was also named the Player of the Week in the state of Kentucky via MaxPreps/AVCA Kentucky to start this week, had another powerful performance with 18 kills, six digs and three aces with a block.
Mary Tays also had four kills with two digs, Abby Griggs had a strong performance up front with 15 kills and four blocks, Savanna Tays finished with 26 set assists and five digs and Kendyll Powell polished off 15 set assists with four kills and two digs.
Mitchell currently leads the entire state of Kentucky in kills (331), averaging nearly seven per set.
After a 7-3 Lady Tiger start in set one, the Lady Maroons got within 12-11. Strong early play up front by Griggs helped Caldwell take the next three points and though Madisonville crawled back within 16-15, power kills by Mitchell sent Caldwell back up 20-15, and Griggs polished off the final kill for the set at 25-20.
In set 2, Caldwell County took off to an 8-4 start, and pristine serving by Mitchell kept the Lady Maroons from getting closer than within four the rest of the set.
A fake by Prowell would double up the Lady Tiger lead at 12-6, and kills by Mary Tays and Griggs upped the lead to near double digits.
Griggs remained on fire, with a rocket to an empty left corner for a 20-7 advantage before Caldwell County wrapped up a 2-0 set lead at 25-9 after the set point from Mitchell.
"I saw a balanced attack tonight," Cortner added. "We had the most offense out of the middle out of Abby Griggs, Savannah Scott and Kynady Thomas. That's the most offense we've had out of them all night because we had to make a few shot adjustments with Mary Tays and Olivia Mitchell on the outside. We had to make a few shots, they were trying to hit the line more to stay away from Madisonville's libber and, that opened up our middle attacks a whole lot."
Madisonville North Hopkins never recovered from their apparent loss of energy that was so prevalent early, and Mary Tays helped lift the Lady Tigers off a 7-0 start in the closing set.
Mitchell stopped a slight cold spell at 10-5, and the Lady Tiger serving took advantage of a discombobulated Lady Maroon back row defensively with a 15-6 edge midway through.
Riley Thomas' serving and a solid dog to keep possession alive helped deliver the killing blow with a 4-0 surge at 19-7, taking the eventual sweep at 25-10 with the match point coming via another signature Mitchell kill.
The Lady Tigers have dominated the all-time season series with Madisonville North Hopkins, and now lead the Lady Maroons 27-5 after Thursday's triumph.