Arabians take sixth consecutive county volleyball title

Sep. 9—ELWOOD — The 42nd edition of the Madison County Volleyball Tournament finals was a day of milestones. Two players reached coveted individual career accomplishments while a first-year coach returned to her alma mater and claimed her first varsity coaching win.

But volleyball is a team sport, and the greatest milestone of the day belonged to the Pendleton Heights Arabians.

The Arabians overcame a pair of seven-point second-set deficits in the championship match to post a 25-21, 30-28 victory over Frankton and claim their sixth straight Madison County crown, becoming the first team in the history of the tournament to do so.

Three previous teams — Pendleton Heights (1982-86), Highland (1989-93) and Alexandria (2006-10) — had won five in a row, but with its 20th overall title, this Arabians team did what none of those could do and have now won 30 straight sets in the process.

"I didn't know that," PH coach Blair Barksdale said. "That's exciting. We've put in a lot of work since I started eight years ago. This was a big win today. We had the crowd, and the JV was hyped. We needed all that energy to win that match."

Now in her eighth season with the Arabians, this was the first of her championship rosters that did not include Avery Ross or Ramsey Gary, now playing at Notre Dame and Indiana, respectively.

It took the full team to win this championship and continue the legacy set forth by not only Ross and Gary, but also players like Averi Lanman, Gracie King and Aubree Dwiggins, who were so instrumental to this historic Arabians' run.

"We've had to fill some pretty big holes as a program," Barksdale said. "We love those kinds of players, but to have balance from an offensive standpoint and everyone is making plays defensively — it takes every player to win a match like this."

While it was another year of straight-set dominance by PH, playing Frankton in the championship for the second straight year was no easy win by any measure.

Sophomore setter Gianna Kanitz took the serve with the Arabians trailing 6-4. Two points later, Annie Canada tied the set on an overpass with a kill as Kanitz served seven straight points for an 11-6 advantage.

Frankton (13-5) battled back and tied the set at 20-all on an Emma Sperry kill. But after Canada broke the tie with a kill of her own, she served the next two points — including an ace — and the Arabians had the separation they needed to finish the set on Mikala Ross's fourth kill of the opener.

"She's just consistent. You always know what you're going to get from her," Barksdale said. "I have all the confidence in the world in her going back there when the game is on the line."

From the outset of the second stanza, the Eagles seemed determined to push Pendleton Heights (14-7) to a third set as they jumped out to an 11-4 lead after consecutive Arabians hitting errors. A Sloane Harrison ace made it 13-6, but that is when PH mounted a comeback of its own.

A 10-4 Arabians run, which included another Canada ace, a Ross kill and four Frankton errors, was capped by a Tessa Hannon ace to tie the set at 17-17. Kaycie Warfel gave the Arabians a short-lived lead with a kill on the following point, but Frankton had an answer.

The teams exchanged leads before Sperry accounted for all five points with kills during a 5-1 Frankton run to have its first of five set points at 24-21.

However, Canada followed with a kill and an ace, and Ross added a kill to pull even before a Frankton timeout. Sperry followed with a kill for a 25-24 lead.

But Ross and Maggie Lukens put PH up 26-25 with kills before Holli Klettheimer answered to tie the set at 26-26. A Kanitz tip kill gave PH its second match point, but back-to-back Klettheimer points gave the Eagles their final lead at 28-27.

But an Eagles hitting error tied the set before Hannon delivered an ace for the lead and Canada ended it with her sixth kill of the finals.

"This game was definitely tighter than in previous years, and we needed everyone in it to win it," Ross — who led the Arabians with seven kills — said. "That's what we did, and this feels great."

Kanitz had 24 assists, two aces and two kills for the Arabians while Warfel — a junior — matched Canada with six kills, leading a balanced PH attack.

"We all wanted to win so bad," Canada said. "I feel like all of us put our whole emotions onto the court and put our everything into this game."

"I'm just really proud of them," Barksdale said. "Just two weeks ago, down (seven) points, I'm not sure the result would have been the same."

The Eagles were led in the finals by Sperry with 14 kills and nine assists and Klettheimer with seven kills, two blocks and 11 assists.

The Eagles advanced to the final with a 25-6, 25-7 win over Anderson in the quarterfinals and a dominant 25-15, 25-13 victory over Lapel in the semifinals, gaining some measure of payback for a season-opening 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs. In the Anderson match, Klettheimer recorded 10 kills and the ninth of the match was the 1,000th of her career with the Eagles.

The second individual accomplishment came for Lapel in the loss to the Eagles, when Karlie Jannings handed out her 1,000th career assist in the losing effort. She had a total of 36 on the day, including 21 in Lapel's 2-0 quarterfinal win over Elwood.

In the first match of the day, Anderson defeated Liberty Christian 29-27, 19-25, 15-9 in the only three-set battle. It was the first coaching win for Elwood graduate Annaka Wilson with the Indians.

Contact Rob Hunt at or 765-640-4886.