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St. Henry celebrates first volleyball state title in 40 years after three-set sweep in championship final


By Brendan Connelly
NKyTribune sports reporter

During a home volleyball match this season, St. Henry celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1981 team winning the high school’s first state championship in a non-classified sport. That ceremony motivated this year’s team to do it again.

St. Henry defeated Louisville Mercy, 21-15, 21-18, 21-14, in the state tournament final on Saturday at George Rogers Clark High School to add another state championship trophy to the school’s collection.

St. Henry sophomore Alivia Skidmore had 16 kills with no errors in the state final. (File photo by Bob Jackson)

“We’ve said all year, ‘It’s time that we bring it back,’ and we did,” said Crusaders coach Maureen Kaiser, who was a freshman on St. Henry’s junior varsity volleyball team in 1981.

“I can’t even put it into words. It’s been a magical dream. I have seven seniors that knew what job we had to do and took it and ran with it.”

St. Henry has won several All “A” Classic state championships in volleyball, but the Crusaders became the first small-school to win the unclassified post-season tournament title since their 1981 team.

In the semifinals on Saturday morning, St. Henry defeated Louisville Sacred Heart, the top-ranked team in the final state coaches poll, to reach the state championship match for the first time since 2006. Louisville Mercy returned to the state final after losing to Notre Dame in five sets last year.

In the first set of the state final, the Crusaders jumped out to an 8-2 lead behind four kills by senior middle hitter Taylor Preston to seize the momentum that carried them to victory in all three sets.

Taylor Preston

Preston registered 25 kills in the three-set sweep to lead a St. Henry attack that had a .430 hitting percentage compared to Mercy’s .247. Sophomore outside hitter Alivia Skidmore had 16 kills with no errors and senior setter Cora Taylor notched 42 assists for the Crusaders.

St. Henry grabbed the first four points of the third set and never looked back. In a stanza that featured five runs of at least three straight points, the Crusaders completed their bid for a state title with a kill by Skidmore.

“Cora Taylor reads the defense so well and just plays the ball in the hitters’ hands,” coach Kaiser said. “Our defense, Abby Schaefer and Elizabeth Tabeling, both were passing on a dime on that run, and it just allowed our offense to run.”

Preston was named the state tournament’s most valuable player. The Oklahoma University recruit totaled 67 kills with a .358 hitting percentage in her team’s three state tournament victories on Friday and Saturday.

Abby Schaefer

Taylor and Schaefer, a senior libero, were the other St. Henry players named to the state all-tournament team. Taylor had 121 assists and Schaefer had 44 digs in 10 sets over the weekend.

“It’s all on them. They worked their tails off all year,” Kaiser said of her team’s effort.

In the semifinal match against Sacred Heart, neither team led by more than four points in the first set before a late rally by the Valkyries carried them to a 25-23 victory.

St. Henry went on a 7-1 run midway through the second set and evened the match with a 25-11 decision. In the third set,  Sacred Heart jumped out to 8-1 lead. The Crusaders mounted a comeback to tie the score at 22-22 and won it 26-24 on a Preston kill.

Sacred Heart held set point at 25-24 in the fourth set, but St. Henry responded with three straight points for a 27-25 win and advanced to the championship match on a kill by junior outside hitter Sidney Arstingstall.

The final stats for the semifinal match showed Preston with 27 kills. Skidmore added 15 kills and 14 digs with Taylor assisting on 48 points. Approximately seven hours later, the Crusaders won the championship match to finish the season with  a 36-8 record.

“Our legs were tired, but honestly we had enough time in between our morning game and we went back and took a nap, got refueled,” Kaiser said.


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2 Comments

  1. Arnold CANDRAY says:

    I may be a little ‘biased’…but after having a chance to finally witness a live game play of granddaughter Taylor Preston…was very very impressed. It was worth flying in from Seattle to see her extraordinary play.. superb and amazing on all counts…her directed spike kills were overwhelming for other teams.. who never seemed able to provide a ‘defense’ for Taylor’s hits. Definitely glad had made the trip to watch the Tournament MVP play…and will plan to do so again…going forward at the University of Oklahoma Yes a proud granpa.

  2. Tara Pendergast-Leonhard says:

    I got to go and see this remarkable team win State. There coaches and team manager and assistant were so steady and as determined as the players to do there best and they did. Thanks to all the parents for the support they give to there players. Go Cru, see you next season.

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