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Lady Dragons win third straight title

Winning a third straight 52nd District Tournament championship didn’t look especially promising for the Harlan Lady Dragons when the season began in August with seven seniors, including six starters, gone from last year’s squad.

Harlan was able to rebuild on the run, overcoming losing streaks early in the season and again late in the year, to capture another district title, sweeping past Middlesboro on Monday and then dispatching Harlan County 25-17, 25-22 and 25-19 in the championship game Tuesday at Bell County High School.

“I’m proud of how this team has come together this season. We lost a lot of talent last season, basically our entire varsity squad,” Harlan coach Tara Posey said. “These girls have tasted winning and worked hard to repeat again this season.”

Tournament most valuable player AnnMarie Bianchi led the Lady Dragons with 12 kills, one block, two aces, two digs and one assist. Courtney Cozart had 15 assists, one ace and one kill. Ai-yana Harriston added 12 digs, four aces and one kill. Madison Middleton had four aces, seven digs and six kills. Haven Saylor contributed five assists, six digs and three aces. Brandi Haywood had seven kills and one block. Taylor Simpson added five digs, four kills and one ace.

Middleton, Simpson, Harriston, Haywood and Saylor joined Bianchi on the all-tournament team.

“AnnMarie stepped her game up in this tournament and really played well. Courtney Cozart has had two great games as well. She has done a great job stepping up and setting some for us this season,” Posey said. “Ai-yana Harriston is a playmaker. She gets to balls somehow and makes things happen. Brandi Haywood is dominating net play like she has been playing her whole life. Taylor Simpson is a hustler as well. Not too many balls get past her. Haven Saylor is another playmaker on the team. No matter where we dig the ball she gets to it and sets our hitters up to get good hits on the ball. Madison Middleton has stepped her hitting game up to help us as well.”

Both teams advance to the 13th Region Tournament.