By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
There was just one thought in Haleigh Morris’ mind as she approached the net on the final play of the 44th District Tournament title game.
“Just put it down,” Morris said. “Put it down.”
The junior did just that.
Then the celebration began.
Led by an impressive performance by Morris at the net and the solid efforts of three seniors — Riley Lane, Brooke Morrow and Hayden Cremeens — Madison Central claimed its first district title since 2006.
Madison Southern put up a fight, taking the first set, but the Lady Indians rallied for a 3-1 (21-25, 25-17, 25-21, 25-22) win at Berea Community School.
Both teams advance to next week’s 11th Region Tournament, which is playing played at Madison Southern High School.
“It’s hard to beat any team three times,” Madison Central coach Elizabeth Morrow said. “When I came and watched Berea and Madison Southern on Monday night, the thing they both did really well was pass the ball.”
Central defeated Southern twice during the regular season without losing a set.
This showdown, however, was a battle from the beginning to the last point.
The Lady Eagles led for most of the first set, jumping out to a 19-12 lead at one point. Central closed to within two points (21-19) on a series of kills by Payton Templeton.
Still, Southern got an ace from Brianna Saylor and was able to close out the set.
“We are all about playing defense and turning balls over,” Southern coach Jeremy Grant said. “So, I think when we can pick up the hits at times, it bothers them. I told the girls coming over here that if you give it all that you’ve got, good things are going to happen. I feel like we left everything on the floor.”
After dropping the first set, the Lady Indians made a strategic change to their lineup. Morris, a middle blocker, moved to outside hitter.
The junior caught fire in the final three sets, blasting kills all over the court.
“That was Riley’s idea,” Morrow said of moving Morris to outside hitter. “It was effective and it worked.”
Southern had a 15-12 lead in the second set, but Central won 13 of the final 15 points, fueled by four kills from Morris.
The Lady Indians led for most of the third set, even though they were never able to pull away from Southern. The Lady Eagles tied the game at 10-10, but eight missed serves never allowed them to take the lead.
In the fourth set, Central jumped out to an 18-10 advantage behind the big serving of Morrow. Still, Southern got back within a point (21-20) on good serving by Jackie Shepherd and Sara Castle.
With Central leading 24-22, Morris delivered one final kill.
The championship was especially sweet for Central’s four seniors and also their coach.
Brooke Morrow and injured senior Brianna Koretski have been with the program since they were in elementary school. Lane and Cremeens joined the team when they were in middle school.
Prior to the season, Morrow had decided this would be her last season as coach.
She is the only coach the program has had since it was created 14 years ago.
“It hasn’t set in yet because we are still playing volleyball,” Cremeens said of the emotions.