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Graves, new coach set sights on McCracken

Graves County's Abbie Hannan (18) blocks a hit in a Third District game last season at Mayfield. Hannan played middle blocker as a junior but moves to outside hitter this season as the Lady Eagles look to repeat as district champions.

ERIC WALKER/The Mayfield Messenger

By ERIC WALKER ewalker@mayfield-messenger.com

No matter the team and no matter the place, each match Graves County's volleyball team plays this season will be against McCracken County.

That is the mindset first-year head coach Brett Cariveau is instilling into his team: To achieve an ultimate goal, you have to face the ultimate test. And in First Region volleyball, that test is the Lady Mustangs.

"The ultimate goal is to win a regional title and get to the state tournament. The only way we do that is to practice and compete against McCracken every day," Cariveau said. "What are we doing to put ourselves in a position to compete and potentially run with McCracken and potentially beat them for a regional title?"

That is a tall order, though. McCracken County has not fallen to a First Region opponent in the five years since the consolidated school opened and has won every regional championship in that time. Last season, the Lady Mustangs reached the state semifinals before falling to eventual champion Louisville Assumption.

Still, Graves County enters this season as defending Third District champions after defeating Ballard Memorial - where Cariveau served as an assistant - in that tournament's final. The bulk of that team returns, including senior outside hitter Abbie Hannan and junior setter Taylor Courtney.

A new face is freshman Ballard transfer and outside hitter Audrey Dowdy. Dowdy, Cariveau's daughter, played significant time as an eighth-grader for the Lady Bombers, who reached the regional tournament title match.

Serves, passing and defense have been the strong suits for the Lady Eagles, so far.

"Defense, from what I remember, wasn't great last year, so that's what I've stressed in open gym is 80-90 percent of all minutes have been first-ball contact, serve and serve-receive," Cariveau said. "Games we have been winning, we're mainly winning because of our serving and our passing are very good and our defense is very good."

Where he would like to see improvement is scoring. Hannan and Dowdy, he said, have been carrying much of the offensive load and would like to see others step up to add points.

Graves County competed in last weekend's Bluegrass State Games and went 2-4. The Lady Eagles defeated Marion County and South Laurel, but fell to Cooper, Louisville Eastern, Taylor County and Lafayette.

"Lafayette and Taylor County, we should have beat," Cariveau said. "We were up on Taylor County, 18-15, with serve and lost 21-19. It's just figuring out how to win and not let teams back in.

"Things are moving in the right direction. It's trying to create a different mindset of not going out and playing games, but beating teams that we should beat," he added. "Don't let off because we won by 10-15 points. That's what McCracken does. They put teams away. They don't let teams play with them."