Falcons at the net

Abingdon's Cassie Farley and Katie Harless block a shot by Gate City's Sarah Thompson during a match earlier this season. The Falcons kept up their winning ways with a win over Union on Tuesday. 

ABINGDON, Va. – The strongpoint for Abingdon volleyball standout Katie Harless is versatility.

From the seventh grade until her sophomore year, Harless orchestrated the AHS offense from the setter position.

That’s when this story took a powerful turn.

“I started going to the weight room and became a lot stronger, and the coaches realized they needed me on the outside,” Harless said.

The senior outside hitter boomed 24 kills and added 17 digs Tuesday as the AHS Falcons downed the Union Bears 16-25, 25-21, 25-15, 23-25, 15-7 in a Mountain 7 District showdown.

Harless, who has 230 kills on the season, said the switch in roles came naturally

“It wasn’t hard at all because I’m super aggressive and like to hit the ball hard,” Harless said.

By blasting away on crosscourt winners, Harless helped AHS (18-2, 8-0) finally pull away from the Bears.

“For the last three years, Union and Abingdon have battled for the district championship so we knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Harless said. “We made a lot of errors in the first set but we came together and talked with our captains. We wanted to be relentless.”

Morgan Blevins supplied 13 kills and 15 digs for AHS while Cassie Farley (16 kills), Emme Thompson (48 assists, 10 digs) and Lacie Bertke (13 digs) also played well.

“Union came here in here and beat us in four sets last season and then they beat us two more times after that,” AHS coach Rachel Kopp said. “We did what we needed to do tonight.”

The Falcons won behind effective serving, sound defense and the hitting of Harless and Blevins.

“We’ve made progress, but we had some inexperience out there and I think that showed,” Union coach Kim Moore said. “Passing is the name of the game.”

The Bears (13-7) were led by senior Emili Brooks (19 kills) and 5-11 senior Jayda Smith (10 kills). Other standouts included Isabella Blagg (20 digs) and freshman Brooke Bailey with 27 assists.

“Harless is a great player and we had to put a bigger blocker on her, but I would put Emili and Jayda right up there with her in terms of talent,” Moore said.

Kopp, whose Falcons won a four-set decision at Union earlier this season, has been delighted at the development of Harless.

“Katie has too good of a swing not to put her on the outside,” Kopp said. “If she would have played there all four years, she would have would have surpassed some records.”

With Harless, Blevins and Farley taking control of the net, AHS grabbed a 7-2 lead in the final set and then held on.

“We kind of wore out that crosscourt shot with Morgan and Katie,” Kopp said

Harless said the other key to her emergence as a forceful hitter is motivation from other older brother Will, who plays baseball at Radford University.

“Will and I grew up competing against each other in baseball and football, and he actually knocked my first tooth out,” Harless said. “I love to compete and be a leader.”

The challenge for Harless next year will be to transition back to the setter position at King University next year.

“I’m ready for it,” Harless said. “I take pride in being an all-around player.”

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg—BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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