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Tournament Time

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Connersville’s Erika Smith tips a ball over the net in a match against Franklin County in an Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference match inside the CHS gymnasium on Sept. 12. Smith and the Spartans will face Greenfield-Central in their opening match of the postseason tonight.
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Connersville freshman Paige Dunaway goes up for a kill against Franklin County on Sept. 12. Dunaway is one of four Lady Spartans heading into tonight’s Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinal against Greenfield-Central with more than 100 kills in 2018.
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Connersville senior Marley Smith leaps high for a kill attempt at home against Union County on Aug. 29. Smith and four classmates will make their last high school run through the postseason, beginning tonight against Class 4A Sectional 9 host Greenfield-Central.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Heading into tonight's Class 4A Sectional 9 tournament at Greenfield-Central, Connersville head coach Torrie Whitmore knows that attitude can go a long way in determining her team's fate.

Time and again, the Lady Spartans have shown on the court that they have the ability to play with the best opponents that their schedule has thrown at them. 

But on some other occasions ...

"We're just trying to stay upbeat and positive going into this," Whitmore said. "They know that I believe in them, and that I know they can win. But they've got to believe it, and have that desire going into each match."

Connersville will open postseason play against the tournament host Lady Cougars.

Greenfield-Central comes into the match with a 20 wins, compared to 11 for the CHS. In spite of that, Whitmore said she sees several similarities between the two teams.

The Cougars are led at the net by four girls — Ava Antic (254 kills), Makayla Price (246), Haleigh Pribble (138) and Brooke Herrell (118). Likewise, the Spartans have four hitters they turn to put the ball down on the opponents' side of the net. Those are Marley Smith (193), Emily Hodson (190), Erika Smith (119) and Paige Dunaway (100).

But while kills lead to points, and enough points lead to wins, Whitmore says that the fundamental skills that will lead to success in tonight's quarterfinal lies in other areas of the court.

"Serving and serve receive will be crucial for us," the CHS coach pointed out. "If we can be aggressive in those two areas, that's going to set us up to get those kills."

That said, with so many talented hitters lining up on the other side of the court, Whitmore conceded that strong play at the net will also be called upon.

"Our blocks will have to be solid, we're going to have to get high above the net against this team," she added. "I think (for GC) the same thing is going to apply."

Defensively, Greenfield-Central has been led by senior Heather Burkhart, who has collected 335 digs this season (10.8 per game). For the Spartans, Allison Woytik, also a senior, leads with 403 digs (12.6). 

At the service line, the Cougars have five players with a serving percentage above 93 percent (minimum 200 attempts). 

Connersville's leading server is Hodson, who's success is 92.6 percent (350 of 376). Two others hover above the 90 percent mark.

Prior to CHS' first serve (at approximately 8 p.m.) tonight, Richmond will face Pendleton Heights in another quarterfinal. Awaiting that winner for a Saturday semifinal is New Palestine.

The Greenfield-Central/Connersville winner will return for its semifinal date on Saturday, to face Mt. Vernon (Fortville).

The championship is also set for Saturday, with the two semifinal winners meeting at 7 p.m.

In the meantime, however, the focus for Whitmore and her charges has been entirely on Greenfield-Central ... and on themselves, of course.

"We've had some great practices heading into the sectional, and as a result, the girls are very upbeat and wanting to win this match," Whitmore said. "If the right team comes to play, we'll have a shot of doing that."



(at Greenfield-Central High School)

Quarterfinals (tonight)

Richmond vs. Pendleton Heights, 6 p.m.

Greenfield-Central vs. Connersville, 8 p.m.

Semifinals (Saturday)

New Palestine vs. Richmond/Pendleton Heights winner, 11 a.m.

Mt. Vernon (Fortville) vs. Greenfield-Central/Connersville winner, 1 p.m.

Championship (Saturday)

Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.