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The four-seed Washington County Commanderettes (15-17) gave top-seeded Bethlehem (21-3) a scare in the second round of the 19th District tournament on Tuesday night, but it was the Banshees who moved on to the championship for the fourth-consecutive year with a 3-2 (25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-7) victory.
“I am more than pleased with the way these girls ended the season,” said Washington County Head Coach Anne Mudd. “Obviously we would have loved to continue, and it didn’t fall in our favor, but the girls definitely gave Bethlehem all they could handle.”
The Banshees got off to a hot start in game one and built their lead to 11 points at 22-11, before a 10-1 Commanderette run cut the lead to two at 23-21, including a stretch where senior LeeAnn Abell served WC to seven-straight points. Bethlehem settled down, however, for the final two points, including a big kill by sophomore Mollie Simms to cap the game-one win.
Bethlehem took a 4-1 lead in game two, but never led again after the Commanderettes scored the next five points on Abell’s serve again. The Banshees were able to draw even a couple of times, but a 4-0 spurt on top of an already 17-14 lead helped Washington County put the game away to even the match.
After WC took game two, Bethlehem got a team effort that included kills from senior Katarina Knopp, Sarah Beth Hayden and Mollie Simms, as well as an ace from senior Brooke Hutchins to regain the advantage in game three.
Washington County senior Samantha Mudd served her team to a 5-0 lead to start game four, but the Banshees quickly battled back and the game was a back-and-forth battle throughout. Trailing 23-20, Bethlehem reeled off three-straight points, but the Commanderettes found a way to finish off the game with a kill by senior Emily Spaulding.
The upset appeared to be in the works in game five, with WC jumping out to a 5-1 lead, but the Banshees refused to back down. Senior Sidney Hoehler served Bethlehem on a 7-0 run to take control of the match, and another spurt of 6-0 put the Commanderettes on the brink of elimination. Hayden then came up with the final kill, which deflected off a Washington County player at the net for the final point.
Following the near-upset, Bethlehem Head Coach Thomas Brown commented on how tough the district has become from top to bottom compared to most of the state.
“If you take Central Hardin out of that E-town district, then this is by far the toughest one through five of any district anywhere,” Brown said. “This year, No. 5 would be No. 2 a lot of other places.”
Mudd said Brown wasn’t the only opposing coach to take notice to her team’s improvement last Tuesday night.
“When you get text messages, phone calls and emails from coaches and parents of the other teams that witnessed these girls’ over the past couple of weeks, you know that you are not the only one that sees their ability to give any team a run for their money,” Mudd said.
Looking ahead to the offseason, five seniors will be departing the team and all five had a hand in this season’s success.
“Every time we say goodbye to our seniors it’s bittersweet,” Mudd said. “I’m sad that they won’t be able to play together again, but happy knowing that this is another phase in their lives that they can learn from and hopefully we can give them something to take with them in their future endeavors. Each senior player contributed to the success of this team and every year I think that the underclassmen have big shoes to fill, but from a coach’s standpoint, the dust doesn’t settle too long before we have to start planning for the next season.”