At long last, the goal and the number that the Caldwell County Lady Tigers (21-13) have been reaching towards all season long has made its rival, and it's realization; lucky number 13.
Behind power-hitting, timely serving and the same unselfish style of volleyball that head coach Daniel Cortner has been accustomed to all season long, the Lady Tigers swept Madisonville North Hopkins a third straight time this season in three sets at the CAB (25-23, 25-14, 25-18) and claimed their 13th straight district 7 volleyball championship that dates back to 2007 when the Lady Tigers did it under Sue Stone.
Olivia Mitchell led the way with 29 kills, seven digs, two aces, a block and a set assist.
Addi Perkins collected two digs, Savanna Tays finished with a game-high 28 set assists, four digs and an ace, Kynady Thomas had a kill and a block, Kendyll Prowell had 12 assists, with two kills and two digs, Adi Sullenger finished with nine digs and two aces, Riley Thomas contributed nine digs and Mary Tays finished with eight kills and five digs. Savannah Scott also had a kill.
Madisonville North Hopkins (16-19) has not won in their last 30 tries against the Lady Tigers dating back to 2006, the last year that someone other than Caldwell County won the district 7 title.
"About the last four or five years now, it seems like Madisonville has always taken a set off of us in the district," head coach Daniel Cortner said. "This is one of the first 3-0 wins we've had against them. We knew we were in a fight and we knew we would get a higher profile, higher speed offense from them, because Madisonville had nothing to lose. It's a step further than they made it last year. We knew we would get their best fight. The question was, were we able to go a step above their intensity? I think we went one step above them, and sometimes even two with our power and our intensity."
Without senior forward Abby Griggs on Thursday night, the Lady Tigers still had the considerable favorability throughout the region despite the decreased height up front.
Madisonville North Hopkins came in severe underdogs, and left with a valiant effort, but the question wasn't as much as who could beat Caldwell County this week; it was who would be joining them next week in the regional tournament.
Caldwell County (5-0 in district play) still has not lost a set to either District 7 opponent in 15 of the played sets.
If they had lost the game, it would have been a three-game losing streak for Caldwell County after losing the final two regular season home games last Saturday to Warren East and CFS. Caldwell County got rid of any bad taste in their mouths from last weekends finale, and will only have one three-game losing streak from the season on their 2019 record from the Kentucky Challenge.
With so many individual accolades already this season for the Lady Tigers, this is the one they wanted more than anything.
"Yeah, we're losing two good seniors this year. Just playing with them and getting in any game we can with them is a blessing, Mitchell said. "They put up a great match, but we just tried to outsmart them and work harder. Just coming out hot and preparing ourselves will really help us in the long run."
Mitchell's early kills and a sloppy MNH start led to a 6-1 lead in set one for the Lady Tigers.
Down by five, the Lady Maroons crawled back midway in the set to within 13-12.
Madisonville stayed within three points most of the rest of the way, until a significant dig by Sullenger put Caldwell up 22-17 and forced a timeout on the other end.
Madisonville cut the deficit to 23-22 with precision but the Lady Tigers went on to take set one at 25-23 after a kill by Mary Tays and a set point via an out of bounds putback.
It was the closest that Madisonville North Hopkins had played them in seven sets this season, and by far the closest that they would play them on this night.
"We started the season worried about depth," Cortner said. "Kynady Thomas works so hard in practice every day. Kynady has such an adult workmanship, she's so mature. When you turn around in the district championship, she hasn't played a bulk of the season. Comes back, looks you in the eye and says, coach I'm ready. I tried to be smart and move the lineup to where Riley Thomas would be back row. I wanted Riley on Madison McCabe and Madisonville shows up with their lineup completely flip flopped, and that put her on Adi Sullenger. She did fantastic and everybody around her had an easier job. We were able to run the tempo through Olivia, and Olivia could just sit there and pick them apart."
Then came set number two, where Caldwell County took the match by the throat at 9-2 on a deadly Mitchell kill, forcing the first-year head coach at Madisonville to call for time.
Mitchell did it again at 10-2 right down the middle, sending the CAB into pandemonium.
Caldwell never led by less than seven the rest of the set, riding a 17-5 lead to a 25-14 win to go up 2-0 after some poor communication from the Lady Maroons.
Caldwell County wrapped up their third sweep of the season of Madisonville North Hopkins in set 3, dominating all facets as the Lady Maroons fell apart.
An 8-2 start for the Lady Tigers forced another MNH timeout, and erased any doubt that the close first set might have created.
A serving error by the Lady Maroons was quickly made up for with a block up front, but an easy point for Mary Tays with no one defending up front kept the Lady Tiger lead at 12-5.
The Lady Maroons got within three in the third set at 17-14, but a left-side kill from Mitchell and a controversial re-do when a ball went into the rafters helped Caldwell distinguish some control back with a six point cushion.
Closing in their 13th straight District 7 title with a 21-14 command, the Lady Tigers would wrap up a crucial 4-0 run with back to back kills from Mitchell up front at 23-16. The match point, came on Mitchell's serving at 25-18.
Caldwell County now leads the all-time series with the Madisonville North Hopkins Lady Maroons 32-5.
The Lady Tigers had already swept the Lady Maroons 3-0 in their two regular season meetings on October 8 and at the CAB on September 19.
Madisonville received 16 kills and 23 digs from Madison McCabe and a double double from Natalie Collier.
The Lady Maroons punched their ticket to Thursday's district title game with a Tuesday night semifinal win at the CAB over crosstown rival Hopkins County Central, cruising in three sets 25-18, 25-5 and 25-12 behind 27 kills from McCabe.
Madisonville (16-19) will still advance to the Region 2 tournament next week, and as a mater of fact, they'll host the entire tournament at Madisonville North Hopkins High School.
Now, the Lady Tigers will be looking to vindicate their long-tenured run atop the rankings as the top team to beat in this part of the bluegrass this season when the Region 2 tournament begins next week.
Caldwell County now looks for their eighth Region 2 title and their first since 2011.
"Next week gives you gray hairs at regional tournament time," Cortner added. "When you show up with a win or go home mentality, the stress tightens things and every decision is under a microscope. I like where they are at, I love the intensity. They want to go to Valley High, they want to go to Louisville at the state tournament. We've been on a drought, and they want to be the first team to take us back."
Mitchell, Savanna Tays, Prowell and Griggs were all named to the 2019 7th District Volleyball team for Caldwell County.
McCabe, Natalie Collier and Alexis Fliehman were named to the all-district team for runner-up Madisonville North Hopkins, and Hopkins County Central had two named to the team in Zoie Larkins and Joleigh Clark.
UHA and Henderson will be the top two teams contending against Caldwell County next week.