With height, athleticism and experience, Jesse Cochran and Emma Bianchi give the Harlan Lady Dragons quite a potent 1-2 combination around the net.
Those two Harlan seniors were the difference Monday as the Lady Dragons solidified their position as the favorite in the 52nd District with a three-set victory over visiting Harlan County.
Harlan (4-0) had to overcome deficits in both the first and third sets but was in control most of the way in the 25-16, 25-13, 25-23 win.
“There are still a lot of things to work on, but we played better as a team tonight,” Harlan coach Tara Posey said. “Those two are all over the floor. When they are on the same side, hardly anything gets by them.”
“They are athletic, but they killed us tapping it over the top of our heads,” Harlan County Stacy Noe said. “They are a good team with a very special player in Cochran. I think if we stay together and keep working, we have a shot at them eventually.”
Harlan County grabbed a 10-8 lead in the first set before Bianchi had two straight kills to spark a 3-0 run for Harlan. With Sydney Horton serving, the Lady Dragons pulled away by scoring the final five points.
Led by Bianchi and Cochran around the net, Harlan raced to a 5-1 lead in the second set.
HCHS rallied to tie before points by Callie Wilson and Cochran put Harlan back in control. Bianchi and Wilson had points late in the set as the Lady Dragons pulled away for the easy win.
With Natalie Middleton answering each Harlan point through much of the third set, the Lady Bears stayed close. Middleton and Miranda Cook had consecutive points to tie the set 23. HCHS had a chance to take the lead, but a bad serve put Harlan back ahead and Cochran pounded home the winning point seconds later.
“We didn’t do a good of getting to the ball in the early sets, but we played our hearts out the third set, and I think we found a pretty good rotation,” Noe said. “Middleton played hard, and (Haley) Blakley and Cook really hustled for us. Mental mistakes killed us. We have to work on both setters we had in the game. They were calling a lot today that they hadn’t called previously.
Bianchi again led the 4-0 Lady Dragons with 13 kills, two digs, two blocks and two aces. Cochran added four aces, four blocks, eight kills, five digs and two set assists. Wilson had seven kills, two aces and three digs. Taylor Smith contributed three aces, two digs and six set assists. Jasmine Honeycutt had two kills and a dig. AnnMarie Bianchi added four aces, two digs and one set assist. Horton had three aces, three set assists and two digs.
Middleton led HCHS (1-2) with six kills and three aces. Blakley added eight digs, two aces and one kill. Elyse Turner had four assists and two digs. Morgan Burke added two aces and two digs. Chelsey Noe had two digs and three assists. Miranda Cook added four digs. Valaree Day contributed an ace and two kills.
Both teams will play Pineville next at home, Harlan County on Tuesday and Harlan on Thursday.
The Lady Dragons won 21-13, 21-8 in the junior varsity game.
AnnMarie Bianchi led Harlan with nine aces, four digs and one kill. Haven Saylor had five aces and a dig. Courtney Cozart had three digs and one ace. Alyssa Moses had two aces, two digs, one kill and one set assist. Madison Middleton had two set assists, two kills and one dig. Rylee Meachum added a dig and a kill.
Harlan County won 21-10, 21-13 in the freshman game.
Alli West led Harlan with two aces and two digs. Lauren Nunez had two digs and one kill. Emily Sizemore had two aces. Meachum contributed an ace and a kill. Middleton added an ace and a dig. Hannah Jones had one ace. Emma Fisher had one kill. Haven Saylor and Ashton West added one dig each.
No Harlan County scoring information was available.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134