END OF THE TOURNEY TRAIL: Carroll County’s Kelly Layton (above, 11) pounds a spike at the net while backed by Stevie Ogburn (2) and libero Megan Harris (below, 12) dives unsuccessfully for a dig. Layton was a force at the net when Carroll County could get her the ball but that proved to be not often enough in a 3-0 loss to Anderson County in the regional volleyball quarterfinals. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
END OF THE TOURNEY TRAIL: Carroll County’s Kelly Layton (above, 11) pounds a spike at the net while backed by Stevie Ogburn (2) and libero Megan Harris (below, 12) dives unsuccessfully for a dig. Layton was a force at the net when Carroll County could get her the ball but that proved to be not often enough in a 3-0 loss to Anderson County in the regional volleyball quarterfinals. (Staff photos by Mark Campbell)
SHELBYVILLE, Ky. - After battling its way through the 31st District volleyball tournament last week, Carroll County staggered out of the gates against Anderson County in Tuesday's Eighth Region quarterfinals and the result was a quick exit from the postseason.

Carroll lost to the Bearcats 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-22) and was left with a bittersweet taste after the Panthers' first trip to the volleyball regional.

"It's a bittersweet kind of thing," Carroll County head coach Kristen Hooper said after watching her team stumble to a beatable opponent just days after winning the program's first district championship.

"I guess in the bigger picture we meet our goal. Our goal was to win district and absolutely we met our goal," Hooper said. "But when it comes down to it I think all 10 of my girls who were on that roster feel disappointed at this moment. Every single one of them feel that way primarily because we didn't play as well as we could. That was a team we felt like we could have played better with and we could have beaten them and nobody likes walking away from a game like that and being on the losing end."

The Panthers and Bearcats got off to a rough start in game one but it was Anderson County that smoothed out its rough spots first to expand a 6-5 early lead into a 19-7 advantage en route to the 25-18 win. The Panthers fell behind 8-2 at the start of the second game en route to the 25-15 loss and Carroll spotted Anderson a 7-1 lead in game three before closing to 23-20 before Anderson could close out the match.

"Mechanically we were not on the top of our game tonight," Hooper said. "We passed mediocre at best and our serve receive was mediocre at best. When we got sets up there where they should be we hit fairly well but we were not near as mechanically disciplined as we needed to be.

"But they admitted to me for the first time in a long while 'We're nervous,'" the coach said. "You know, I know they're nervous, but you overcome that by doing the little things well."

Carroll County did manage a solid rally in each of the three games - the best of which was in game three when Carroll outplayed Anderson over a long stretch to force a Bearcat timeout to regroup before putting away the win.

"This group of girls, they are fighters. They are absolute fighters," Hooper said. "They believe in themselves and they believe in one another. The sad part of that is that we sometimes have to dig ourselves holes to realize that we are fighters. Had we not dug those holes to begin with, think how the score could have been different."

Both teams struggled all night to adapt and overcome a quirky regional venue at Shelby County High School. The regional was contested in the Rockett's basketball gymnasium with the volleyball court shoved to one end against a concrete wall to avoid a massive scoreboard that overhangs basketball center court. There was no room to jump serve on one end and balls that were hit high often rattled off the big scoreboard or the two basketball goals that hung over the volleyball area.

"The facilities were not ideal but Shelby County tried to accommodate as best as they can," Hooper said. "Good players can rise above that so to me it is not an excuse. The last couple of days in practice we knew what we were coming into so we set up different things in practice to kind of combat that and see what we could do so to me it's not an excuse ... but it's not a typical court and you just can't do some of the things you normally can do."

Carroll's serve reception and passing were the Panthers' biggest downfall. When the Panthers did either well, the team was very much equal to Anderson but those times were just too few in the end.

Sophomore hitter Kelly Layton was a solid force when properly fed the ball but as it was she ended the night with just four kills to go with three blocks. Senior setter Caitlyn Burke was credited with 12 assists but she sent many more balls over the net without attempting a set due to poor passing. Senior libero Megan Harris led Carroll with four tough digs.

Hooper said the team's four seniors - Ariel Hoftil and Ashley Gentry are the other two - will be missed and it was their effort and dedication that led Carroll to finally winning its first district to allow the Panthers to advance to their first regional.

"It's been a great, great ride," Hooper said of her seniors. "It is their hard work that got us here. Our four seniors are our leaders. They're out there day-in and day-out showing the younger ones just what to do and how to do it and how our program runs. It is because of them that we've been able to get as far as we have. And for our younger ones, it's a bright future."

Carroll closes out the season with an 18-12 record while Anderson (19-16) moves on to play Simon Kenton (25-12) in tonight's regional semifinals. Simon Kenton beat South Oldham 3-1 in Tuesday's second quarterfinal. North Oldham and Shelby County will meet in tonight's first semifinal.