Calm Cats muster improbable rally

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper volleyball players Sophie Weidenbenner, far left, Tori Sermersheim and Katie Krempp were engulfed by members of the JV team and student section after Jasper rallied from two sets down to oust Mount Vernon 17-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-13 in Tuesday’s Class 3A regional battle between conference rivals in Posey County. Jasper claimed its second straight regional title and 18th overall, and the Wildcats will return to their home floor for Saturday’s semistate semifinal matchup against Edgewood at 12:30 p.m. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

MOUNT VERNON — What started as an impossibility became an improbability. That transformed into a faint hope, which then morphed into a believable notion. Finally, that idea that appeared inconceivable 124 points prior became Jasper’s unthinkable reality.

As Lydia Scherle confessed, “It wasn’t supposed to happen.”

A “flabbergasted” Tori Sermersheim couldn’t explain it. Neither could an awestruck Annie Huebner.

After dropping the first two sets to Mount Vernon in Tuesday’s Class 3A single-match volleyball regional, even Shelby Merder couldn’t repress the sense of doubt starting to creep into her mind.

What if this is my last game? the senior recalled asking herself.

“And then I just looked at my team,” said a beaming Merder. “And everybody was calm.”

The Wildcats had come back from a deficit to win seven matches this season and prided themselves on poise. Yet few could fathom the resilience shown in their 17-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-13 survival at Mount Vernon, a team that beat Jasper in four sets on Aug. 28.

“I’m pretty much speechless. And that never happens,” Jasper coach Deborah Giesler said. “I knew it would be a battle. ... You don’t know if you’re going to cry or cheer, just, I don’t know what to say. I’m so proud of how they worked and how they fought.”

Despite not holding a lead until the third set, having its season come within two points of ending in the fourth set and within three points in the third, Jasper celebrated in a fused state of euphoria and bewilderment as Mount Vernon’s attempted dig off a Merder spike descended to the floor for the match’s culminating point.

For the second straight year, and the 18th time in school history, the Wildcats (29-8) were crowned regional champs.

“There are just no words to describe it,” said Huebner, who alternated with Merder for winners on the Wildcats’ final four points. “The best game. The best feeling ever.”

Jasper’s Annie Huebner bumped an incoming hit for one of her 17 digs.

Early on, an end of this nature was difficult to envision given how unrecognizable the Jasper team was, Giesler said. Even considering the group’s often slow starts, its timidity in the early going was surprising.

“Coming in after the first two sets, I do not know what I was watching. It was one of those again where you don’t recognize your team out there because they’re not doing the things they usually do,” she said. “We were tipping, we were doing roll shots. We weren’t running our offense aggressively in the beginning. ... We just never really got into a rhythm.”

Trailing 15-6 in the opening set, the Wildcats’ best offense seemed to materialize from its defense, with Merder (nine blocks), Megan Stenftenagel and Katie Krempp fortifying the net. Additionally, backliners Jaclyn Schmitt (34 digs) and Huebner (17 digs) began tempering Mount Vernon’s thrustful serves. Jasper crept back within three points at 19-16, but Mount Vernon (29-4) captured six of the next seven points to seal the set.

After the second set concluded in similar fashion, Giesler provided a blunt proposition.

“After we lost the second set, we met over there and I said, ‘You have nothing to lose. Worst-case scenario, you lose in three, and that’s the direction we’re going right now. So all you have to do is play your game,’” she said.

The third stanza brought the Cats their first advantage, at 2-1. Leads matriculated from there. First 8-4, then 19-13 after a six-point run capped by one of Elisabeth Ahlbrand’s eight kills and a Huebner ace.

Ahlbrand

“Once we were finally getting a lead in that third set, we knew it was possible,” Stenftenagel said.

Though the lead shrank to 23-22, two Merder thwacks kept hope alive.

“After the first two games, it was just heartbreaking,” said Sermersheim, who plastered 13 kills. “But once we finished that third game strong, we were determined because we had the fight in us.”

The swing was visible in faces, Merder said.

“You kind of got this feeling. And I knew, I knew right when we got a little momentum, this was coming back to us,” she said. “And you could just see. If you see it in one person, you see it in the others.”

As Giesler assessed it, the third set permitted belief to set in.

“After we won that third set, I was thinking, ‘OK, we’re one down. This is doable. We’ve been in this position before” Giesler said, referencing the team’s 2-1 hole in Saturday’s sectional final. “Then in that fourth set, the set when we came out and really took the lead from the beginning, I knew, ‘You know what? These girls know they can do it.’”

By the fourth set, Jasper’s vigor became eminent, on many fronts. Sermersheim spikes earned points four and five, a spike and tip by Huebner snatched 10 and 11, a thunderous return kill from Merder grabbed 16 and the 22nd came through a Scherle ace. Up one point, Ahlbrand tiptoed a ball over the net for the 25th and match-tying point.

Then came the fifth. Comeback complete.

Now the Wildcats return to Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium for a Saturday semistate showdown with Edgewood (25-11), which the Wildcats swept in the first round of semistate last season. The Cats and Mustangs will battle after the first semifinal at 11 a.m. between No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard (29-7) and No. 4 Brownstown Central (31-5), with the winners meeting for the championship Saturday night at 7.

More than anything, Giesler hoped the result demonstrated to her girls what she’s felt all along: To benefit from potential, it must be seized.

“I want so badly for them to feel the success that they have the potential to feel,” Giesler said. “And we’re one step closer to that.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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