Blue Ridge Volleyball Places Second in Clinton Classic, Loses Close Match to Heyworth in Title Match

Championship Match
HEYWORTH def. BLUE RIDGE 25-23, 26-24

CLINTON, Ill. -- For Lady Knights head coach Evan Miles, playing in the Clinton Classic meant another opportunity to provide his players some valuable playing experience.

“We’re very, very young," Miles said. "We start girls at every level, some multiple positions at lower levels. This is a very, very competitive tournament. Each of our pool-play matches, and even our championship match, feel like a regional championship atmosphere, so it’s good for our young team being cohesive early and playing in that environment and atmosphere, and the competition was very, very good. That’ll benefit us when we get to conference play and tournament time.”

In the end, however, the younger Blue Ridge players got to experience something older ones painfully did in last year's regional tournament: heartbreak in the hands of the Lady Hornets.

Once again, Heyworth got the best of Blue Ridge in a tournament atmosphere, leaving Clinton with the championship plaque and the Lady Knights with the consolation prize of second place.

In the second set, Blue Ridge cut a 19-13 deficit to 20-19. Kaitlyn Zelhart started the rally with a hit that bounced off the net and over it.

That shot cut the deficit to 19-14. It decreased to 19-17 after Amber Blazek thwarted a Heyworth block attempt with a diving shot over the net.

After a block by the Lady Hornets' Ashley Hoegger gave Heyworth a 23-19 lead, Blue Ridge scored five of the next six points to tie the set at 24-24. The rally was highlighted by a defensive play by Jordan Wheeler, who dived to keep the ball from falling to the floor on Blue Ridge's side.

As a result, the Lady Knights got a point to cut Heyworth's lead to 24-23 when Chelsea Hinthorn hit the ball out of bounds.

However, the Lady Hornets scored the last two points, the first when Wheeler hit the ball out of bounds. The decisive point was scored when a serve from Hoegger was unreturned despite a diving effort from Wheeler.

In the first set, the Lady Hornets built a 9-4 lead. Those nine points included two via serve; Cassidy Kingery, who would be named a member of the All-Tournament team, got the service points.

Blue Ridge, however, tied the set at 11-11 when a Kaitlyn Zelhart spike undercut Hoegger. That started a series in which Heyworth would take the lead and the Lady Knights tied the set up again on three occasions.

After Gabby Pearl tied the set at 16-16 with a block, however, the Lady Hornets went on a 6-0 run to build a 22-16; the last of those six points was scored when a Kingery serve was too short for Blazek to handle.

Blue Ridge cut the Heyworth lead to 24-23 when a Kaitlyn Zelhart spike was mishandled by the Lady Hornets. However, Heyworth scored the 25th point when Chandler Morrow served the ball out of bounds.

Kaitlyn Zelhart (pictured below) finished the match with 11 kills, nine digs, five points, an ace, an assist and a block. Wheeler had four kills, 11 digs and six points.

Emily Zelhart recorded 10 assists while Blazek had four assists and five kills. Pearl finished the match with three blocks, two assists and a kill. 

Jessica Schrock finished with a kill and Morrow had five points and one ace.

Match 1

In the Lady Knights' first three matches at the Clinton Classic, they had to rally from behind in at least one set.

In their first set against Prairie Central, Blue Ridge had to overcome a 15-7 deficit. A diagonal spike from Emily Zelhart started the rally, cutting the deficit to 15-8.

The Lady Knights then outscored the Hawks 14-3 to take a 22-18 lead, the 22nd point scored when Pearl received a set from Wheeler and spiked the ball.

In the second set, Blue Ridge trailed only twice (1-0 and 3-2). Its biggest lead throughout that set, however, was four points.  

“Obviously, as a coach, I don’t want us to be in a hole like that or start off a slow," Miles said, "But like last year, we always battle back and push through sets.”

Kaitlyn Zelhart finished the match with nine kills, 10 points, three digs, two aces, and one block. Emily Zelhart had 12 assists, three kills and three digs.

Wheeler (pictured above, on left) recorded five assists, four digs, a block and a kill. Schrock (No. 14, pictured above) finished with three kills while Blazek had two kills and two assists. Pearl had one kill while Morrow recorded three digs.

Match 2
BLUE RIDGE def. ILLINI CENTRAL 25-23, 18-25, 15-12 

In the first set, Blue Ridge found itself in yet another hole.

The Lady Knights fell behind 10-6 to the Cougars, whose last of those 10 points was scored with a serve by Kristin Allen that Blue Ridge could not return despite a diving effort by Kaitlyn Zelhart.

Two straight points via Emily Zelhart (pictured below) put Blue Ridge back in business, cutting Illini Central's lead to 10-8. From there, the Lady Knights took the lead to 11-10.

Then the Cougars regained the lead at 14-12. And two straight spikes by Kaitlyn Zelhart tied that set at 14-14. From there, the Lady Knights, slowly but surely, took control.

Blazek set up Kaitlyn Zelhart for the spike that gave Blue Ridge the decisive 25th point.

After Illini Central won the second set (in which Blue Ridge only led once), the Lady Knights either had the lead or were tied in the third.

With the third set tied at 12-12, Katilyn Zelhart gave Blue Ridge the lead with a touch hit that went over the heads of the Cougars' front line and landed on the floor.

Blazek increased the Lady Knights' lead to 14-12 via serve. Then Kaitlyn Zelhart got the 15th point.

Kaitlyn Zelhart finished the match with 15 kills, six points, eight digs and one block. Emily Zelhart had 14 assists, nine digs, four points and three aces.

Wheeler recorded seven points while Pearl had one block.

Match 3
BLUE RIDGE def. EL PASO-GRIDLEY 14-25, 25-18, 15-8

After losing the first set and trailing the second one 12-8, it looked like the rally mojo would run out of energy for the Lady Knights.

Then Blue Ridge scored eight of the next 12 points to tie the second set at 16-16. Kaitlyn Zelhart proceeded to give the Lady Knights a 17-16 lead with spike that the Titans could not return; Pearl got the assist on that point.

Blue Ridge went up 20-18 thanks to some inspiring defense from Wheeler. She made a one-handed, diving hit that resulted in a point for the Lady Knights when Kaitlyn Zelhart hit a soft shot over the net that El Paso-Gridley could not return to the Blue Ridge side.

Blazek clinched the second set for the Lady Knights with a shot that deflected off a Titans player and nearly went through a basketball hoop.

In the third set, Blue Ridge took a 2-1 lead when an Emily Zelhart serve hit El Paso-Gridley's Chelsea Kessinger in the back. The Lady Knights never trailed again, scoring the 15th point with a diving hit by Blazek that the Titans did not return.

Blazek (No. 20, pictured above) finished the match with seven digs. Kaitlyn Zelhart picked up seven kills, five aces and nine points.

Emily Zelhart had nine digs, five points, three aces and five assists. Wheeler recorded four assists and six points while Pearl finished the match with four kills and three blocks.

Match 4

Compared to Blue Ridge's first three matches, its encounter with the Lady Chargers had few clouds over it.

In the first match, the Lady Knights only trailed once (1-0). They opened up leads as big as 23-9 and 24-10, mercifully clinching the set with a Blazek spike.

In the three-minute rest prior to the second set, Blue Ridge players started chanting Pearl's name.

And Pearl delivered for the Lady Knights in the second set, giving the Knights an 11-8 lead by landing three consecutive serves on the Peoria Christian side of the floor for points.

Pearl (pictured above) finished the match with nine points, three aces, three kills and one assist.

“She’s playing well," Miles said. "She got an opportunity to serve, which she doesn’t get a lot of chances to do. When she hit three aces in a row, that was a good confidence builder for her, and that was a good situation as a freshman to put her in that environment. Our team is pretty close-knit. They rally around each other and support each other. It's fun to see.”

Following Pearl's lead, Blue Ridge built a 23-12 lead in the second set. Pearl got the match point by hitting the ball without getting a Peoria Christian return.

Kaitlyn Zelhart led Blue Ridge in kills with seven and recorded three digs and three assists. Blazek picked up four kills, two assists, two aces and seven points.

Wheeler recorded three kills, three assists, and three digs. Schrock had three digs as well along with a kill.

Emily Zelhart finished the match with two kills and eight assists. Morrow had one kill.

What's Next?

The Lady Knights (10-2) will travel to DeLand-Weldon High School on Monday for a non-conference game.

“There’s a lot of volleyball coming up," Miles said. "We’re doing well so far. Hopefully, we’ll keep everyone healthy and all the bumps and bruises in check."   

For more scores from the Clinton Classic, and to see which Blue Ridge players were selected to the All-Tournament Team, scroll down the Sports Thread. 

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