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Young guns Blagg, Bailey boost Union to 2D title

Tanner Cook • Nov 12, 2019 at 10:07 PM

BRISTOL, Va. — Replacing two seniors with two freshmen at key positions on a volleyball team is never easy, but Union made it look that way on Tuesday.

In the Region 2D championship match inside the Bearcat Den, the Lady Bears (24-8) repeated as champions by taking a 25-17, 25-21, 25-20 win over Gate City.

Senior star middle blocker Emili Brooks continued her outstanding season with a double-double of 20 kills and 17 digs. Jayda Smith, a fellow senior and middle blocker, was also huge with 16 kills, 11 digs and three blocks.

However, the match’s unsung heroes were freshmen: libero Isabella Blagg (22 digs and two aces) and setter Brooke Bailey (34 assists, 15 digs, three kills and one block).

“We rely heavily on (Emili and Jayda), and they produce, but they couldn’t do it without our back row or our setter,” Lady Bears coach Kim Moore said.

“If you would have seen us at the beginning of the season and seen how far we’ve come, being regional champs is a big deal. We replaced a senior libero and senior setter from last year’s team with two freshmen this season, and they have certainly played key roles this year, but it truly takes a team effort.”

Moore’s squad is making its third straight appearance in the state tournament. The past two seasons Union fell to Radford, which swept Floyd County for the Region 1C title on Tuesday. The Lady Bears will host the Region 1C runner-up Lady Buffs on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Class 2 quarterfinals.

The Lady Blue Devils may have been swept, but they made several long runs to build a lead in each set but couldn’t find a way to close out a win. In the second set, for example, Union jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Gate City scored the next six points, but Union responded by scoring four of the next five to go back ahead.

“We made some good runs, but we couldn’t keep it going,” Gate City coach Amy Reed said. “As a coach and a team, that’s the frustrating part because you know it’s there and we have to keep working one point at a time. We have to take it in stride.”

Kinslee Hammonds had seven kills and three blocks for the Lady Blue Devils (18-11). Ashley Stanley had five kills, 13 assists, six digs and two blocks, and Brooklyn Smith chipped in with six kills.

Gate City will travel to Region 1C champ Radford for the state quarterfinals. Match time at Radford High School is set for 3 p.m.

“It doesn’t matter who we play on Saturday,” Reed continued. “We have to come ready to play on Saturday, no matter who it is.”