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Boyle’s run ends in semifinal loss

NICHOLASVILLE — Boyle County volleyball coach Andrea Craig figured not many people were expected much out of the Rebels once the postseason came around. Losing eight of your last 10 matches tends to affect some opinions after all.

But that didn’t stop the Rebels from winning their first district title in six years, and Wednesday, they played in their first 12th Region tournament semifinal since 2010 as well.

While Boyle lost in straight games to 47th District champion Pulaski County (25-8, 25-19, 25-16), there was still much to remember and celebrate about the just-ended season.

“I believe that probably a lot of people counted us out after that suffering at the end of the season,” Craig said. “… We had girls that stepped big and filled those shoes when we needed them to in the postseason. You may not have seen them very much in varsity during the regular season, but they came in and played in the postseason when we needed them to.”

The Rebels will graduate a small but important senior class — Lexi Gourley, Madison Turney and Tori Underwood — but there is enough talent left in the cupboard for Wednesday’s match to serve as a lesson and learning experience for the younger players.

“I told them the majority of what you’re doing wrong is mental,” Craig said of Wednesday’s loss. “You’re making mistakes because of the mentality that you have. You need to rise above that mentality or put it out of your mind for at least tonight and push yourselves forward.”

At least early on, though, the match wasn’t a learning experience but a competitive and winnable proposition for Boyle (18-19), which led 6-4 in the opening stages and trailed 10-8 on Mya Van Steenlandt’s kill.

It fell apart from there. The Maroons got a sideout on the next Boyle serve, and Pulaski senior Kayelee Hudson served 14 straight points, including seven aces. The Rebels continued to have issues returning serves throughout the remaining two games, but nothing like the run to end the first game.

“It was too much of a hole that you can’t get out of,” Craig said. “The pressure finally kicked in for them. They realized where they were, how they were playing and how the other team was playing. It was too much mentally for them tonight.”

In the second game, Boyle hung neck and neck with Pulaski, which entered Wednesday on a 13-match winning streak. A Van Steenlandt kill put Boyle ahead 5-4, but the Maroons eased in front 12-8.

Strong serving by Gourley and a kill from Sierra Dean brought the game back even at 13-13, and it stayed tied for the next few points. But again, the Maroons held serve, pushing a 16-16 tie to a 24-16 edge. Van Steenlandt had a pair of kills to make some noise, but Pulaski pulled out the win.

“It’s the jitters, the nerves of they’ve never been this far before, wanting it so bad they overthink things,” Craig said. “There were many times when I told them, ‘Stop overthinking things and play like you know you should.’

“There were spurts out there in the match where they played that way. But in the end, Pulaski got the upperhand and kept it.”

Pulaski mostly had its way in the third game, getting ahead 5-1 and 9-2 before the Rebels could answer. They twice got within four points, but it wasn’t enough as the Maroons moved into the region championship, where they’ll face host West Jessamine.

There were plenty of lessons to learn from this season for the Rebels, and Wednesday’s game was no exception. At one point during the year, the Rebels were 13-3 after a win over district rival Garrard County.

And Craig knew what was next — the schedule she set up was challenging in the middle, and her hope was to push the players enough they could respond in the postseason.

It showed through the district tournament, where Boyle beat Garrard (3-1) and Lincoln County (3-2), and into Monday’s 3-2 win over Wayne County in the region opener.

“It helped them to know they could play up with a higher caliber team than they’re used to seeing the district or region,” Craig said. “Overall, going into next year, it’s going to make them better.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn