(Cover photo: The Presentation Toppers volleyball team celebrates winning their second-straight All “A” State Tournament title on Sept. 17, 2016. Credit: Presentation Academy Facebook)
When the Presentation volleyball seniors graduate next spring, their heads can hang high, knowing they made history.
The Toppers volleyball team won their second straight All “A” Classic Statewide championship last Saturday winning six games in a mere 12 hours at the Optimum Sports Complex.
Pres defeated St. Henry 25-15, 25-22 in the final match giving the Toppers a second state title in the downtown school’s 185 year history.
“The atmosphere was quite a bit different than last year,” Pres head coach Tom Sawyer said. “We had a lot of parents, faculty, and staff it the crowd. I’m very grateful for that. Some of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were there cheering us on. Our freshmen team had competed in a Tates Creek Tournament in Lexington that morning and they stopped by on their way back. It wasn’t quite as dramatic last year but it was still loud and exciting.”
Just exactly a week before, the Toppers had lost to St. Henry 25-20, 20-25, 25-22 in their final game at the Louisville Volleyball Invitational Tournament.
“I think we didn’t know their players well the first time,” junior outside hitter Peyton McClinton said. “We were able to work on some things in practice and prepare for them more. We installed a new defense and did a better job of hitting our shots.”
But, this time there was precious hardware at stake.
“We noticed that they utilized the switch a lot,” defensive specialist Amber Miller said. “We noticed that if they were going to hit off of our blocks if we weren’t going to get a block and they were most likely going to get a kill.”
McClinton was named MVP while star setter Jalen Story and middle blocker Lauren Nunnelley were named to the All-Tournament team.
“She was on top of her game the whole weekend,” Sawyer said. “It wasn’t just the championship match. She was the MVP the whole day, right from the start. She just came out on fire, swinging at the ball, playing good D, and she kept us in the game against St. Henry. She had the most number of kills and never had a letdown and got better and better as the day went on.”
There were some unsung heroes too; Sawyer said middle hitter Cassie Jones was the vocal leader while Amber Miller and Jenna Story led a stellar defense.
“I don’t know, I think we have multiple vocal leaders on the team but I’m definitely the loudest,” Jones said. “I just did a lot of screaming and cheering. If they were down, I would try to lift their spirits up, if they did something awesome, I was there to congratulate them and told them to keep doing what they’re doing.”
The Toppers won all six games – defeating Bishop Brossart (25-11, 25-7), Harlan (25-4, 25-5), and Raceland (25-9, 25-7) in pool play.
Pres then took down Walton Verona (25-14, 25-16) in the quarterfinals before dismantling Kentucky Country Day (25-8, 25-16) in the semifinals.
St. Henry defeated Allen Central (25-16, 25-15) in the quarterfinals and whipped Caldwell County (25-12), (25-12) in the semifinals.
“I think we ran a lot more different plays against them than last week,” Nunnelley said. “We changed it up more; we tried to work around their defense. I also think it helped that we got to play them last week. We knew what their weaknesses were.”
Going into the tournament, Sawyer questioned his team desire and will, he soon got an answer and it was the one he wanted.
“We all wanted it a lot more this weekend than last weekend,” Jalen Story said about their performance against St. Henry. “We were kind of tired last weekend. This time we knew what we were going for and we knew that we wanted it and we knew what we had to do to get what we wanted.”
Along with Miller, Nunnelley, Jones, and Jalen Story, fellow seniors Peyton Johnston, Macy Jones, Theresa Mattingly, and Lilly Stephenson have raised the bar for the Pres volleyball program.
“Having expectations is a lot of pressure,” Sawyer said. “I think this year people were expecting us to do something. Last year we were hoping for something like this, we felt like we were a good team, we had the team to do it. This year it wasn’t only a hope, it was an expectation I think on our part and the community. But I felt confident that we could do it.”
When the seniors were sophomores two short years ago, the program compiled an 8-24 record and didn’t even get out of the All “A” Sixth Region Tournament.
The crew has left the program in better shape than before and the community is going to put pressure on the program to compete for a small school state title year end and year out.
“There was some pressure because we were the defending champs and they all wanted to knock us off,” Miller said. “But, we knew that if we tried and worked hard that we were going to be able to get the job done.”
But, the clock hasn’t struck zero yet, their second season starts Wednesday night with a contest against archrival Holy Cross.
“What we need to do is to keep working hard and plugging away,” Sawyer said. “I gave the girls a little bit of a talk and said let’s not this be our season. We’ve accomplished one goal but there’s still a season left. We can’t resign to the fact that we’re done. We’re hoping to do well in districts and in region.
“I borrowed a quote from Bobby Petrino (University of Louisville head football coach) and he told his football team after the Florida State game and I told the girls the same thing, ‘I told them all to raise their hands, give themselves a pat on the back, great job, let’s forget it, and think about what’s ahead of us.”
Postseason play starts in four weeks and the Toppers hope to win a second straight 25th District title before heading to the Seventh Region Tournament.
And with high school sports, anything can happen.