Lady Gators become first public school to reach state volleyball title match

Greenwood's Courtney Smith jumps in the air in reaction to scoring a point against North Oldham on Saturday during the semifinals of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament in Louisville. The Lady Gators won the match, becoming the first public school to ever reach the state finals. Joshua Lindsey/Special to the Daily News

Greenwood's Courtney Smith jumps in the air in reaction to scoring a point against North Oldham on Saturday during the semifinals of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament in Louisville. The Lady Gators won the match, becoming the first public school to ever reach the state finals. Joshua Lindsey/Special to the Daily News

LOUISVILLE – Thanks to the Greenwood volleyball team, public schools across the state have a little more hope.

The Lady Gators (27-16) beat North Oldham 2-1 (25-17, 27-29, 25-15) in the semifinals of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament on Saturday in Knights Hall at Bellarmine University, becoming the first public school to ever reach the championship match in the tournament’s 33-year history.

“It’s a little surreal,” Greenwood coach Holly Whittinghill said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles this season. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had sicknesses, we’ve had people quit. We’ve had 16 losses in our season, and this is the team that makes it to the finals. These girls deserve it.”

The Lady Gators had only reached the semifinals once before, knowing little but heartbreak in the tournament that has traditionally been dominated by the Louisville private school contingency.

Greenwood will play Assumption in the championship at 6:30 p.m. CDT tonight.

“We’ve been working for this all season long,” senior outside hitter Courtney Smith said. “We became a stronger team, and the stronger team’s going to be the first public school to go to the finals.

Greenwood volleyball parent Gayle Faulkner, of Bowling Green, holds up a sign Saturday in support of her daughter, senior Taylor Faulkner, and the rest of the Lady Gators team during the semifinals of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament in Louisville. Joshua Lindsey/Special to the Daily News

Greenwood volleyball parent Gayle Faulkner, of Bowling Green, holds up a sign Saturday in support of her daughter, senior Taylor Faulkner, and the rest of the Lady Gators team during the semifinals of the KHSAA State Volleyball Tournament in Louisville. Joshua Lindsey/Special to the Daily News

“We’ve never been put out of state by anyone other than one of those private Louisville schools. Here were are again in this same predicament, and what happens will happen. We’re happy to be where we are.”

The Lady Gators had little trouble in the first set against North Oldham,  jumping out to a  9-3 lead that they never relinquished.

But the Lady Mustangs took a stand after that, keeping pace in a game two that was tied 18 times. Greenwood staved off set point three times before eventually falling 29-27.

“They seemed to get more of a rhythm in the second game and were hitting the ball better, and we didn’t respond to that as well,” Whittinghill said. “We tried to be more aggressive in the third game, and I think our block affected them a little more.”

North Oldham led 4-2 early in the third set, but the Lady Gators rattled off a 10-0 run that the Lady Mustangs couldn’t overcome.

“Third games – if you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to do it well,” Smith said. “We knew they were going to come out firing in that second game because no team lays down in the semis.

“We had to play our butts off to beat them, and we came out in that third wanting to win. Our drive was insane.”

Smith had 21 kills in the match, while junior outside hitter Samantha Mosher had 14. Senior setter Taylor Faulkner had 36 assists. Senior defensive specialist Natalie Geis led Greenwood with nine digs.

Assumption has won 15 of the last 19 state titles. The Lady Gators played the Rockets during the regular season at the Louisville Invitational Tournament, falling 2-0.

But history isn’t enough to rain on Whittinghill’s parade.

“When we played them, Courtney was just playing at libero because of her ankle injury,” Whittinghill said. “They haven’t played against her hitting, which adds another dimension to us. I’m hoping for a bonus. Anything now is a bonus.”

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