Cats’ hitting lineage starts with tireless senior

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Tori Sermersheim is valuable. The empirical data says so, and the Jasper senior is assuming her spot within a lineage of Jasper hitters that seems to be taking shape.

Sermersheim
Hochmeister

Consider that Sermersheim rocketed almost a full set’s worth of kills, accumulating 23 for the night in Jasper’s 25-22, 25-11, 25-9 dismissal of Vincennes Lincoln on Tuesday at the Jasper High School gym. Almost a full third of Jasper’s winning points of the night, courtesy of one active arm. There have been many ahead of her, and there are a few lined up behind her, too.

Where the Wildcats have followed hitting standouts Megan Sternberg and Shelby Merder over the past few years, there’s a new leading lady in Sermersheim. And while Sermersheim commands the spotlight this year, the Wildcats seem to be setting up future central hitters on the periphery as Elisabeth Ahlbrand and Reagan Hochmeister begin taking more swings.

One girl departs, and it’s the next hitter up.

“Last year, we had not just Shelby, we had a lot of good hitters, and we lost a lot of good people,” Sermersheim said. “We’ve needed people to step up, and especially next year, we’re going to need someone to step up, and hopefully Elisabeth comes through, because she’s a left-side (hitter), and left side’s our go-to hitter. Even this year she’s doing a wonderful job being up there; when I’m in the back row, she does a good job of taking over in the front row.”

Case in point, Ahlbrand rescued the Wildcats (4-6, 2-2 Big Eight Conference) from their only skittish stretch of the night Tuesday.

Lincoln erased a 17-12 deficit in the first set to forge ties at 18-all and 19-up. Both times, Teyah Leinenbach (39 assists) set up Ahlbrand to slam a kill off a blocker’s hands, and another of Ahlbrand’s 11 kills then outfitted Jasper with a 22-20 edge.

Then, more of the expected.

Kill, Sermersheim.

Kill, Sermersheim.

And after Lincoln earned one last point, another screamer from Sermersheim pounded the floor unimpeded. Just like that, the Alices’ only threat of the night was washed away.

Jasper coach Liz Milligan is searching for a little more diversity, but in the interim everyone’s OK with the arrangement of Sermersheim taking charge as everyone else accrues experience.

“I’d like to get a little bit more balanced attack,” Milligan said. “But it seems there always is that go-to girl you always look to for the big point, the crucial point. I guess Tori definitely is that girl.”

There’s no respite from the demands, either.

Sermersheim herself is still adjusting, since she’s shifted from middle hitter to the outside this season and also has begun playing all through the rotation. Even on smooth nights like Tuesday, the front-row leaping and back-row scrambling leaves her gassed.

“It’s still tiring,” she said. “Since I am in (the whole rotation) playing back row and front row, it’s hard, because especially in long rallies, I’m panting back there; to get myself together is really hard. But since I’ve been doing it for a couple matches now, I’m starting to get used to it.”

Midway through the second set, there was even a flurry of six straight points that Sermersheim terminated — either via blocks, straight-up kills or hits that Lincoln couldn’t return in three shots.

Through a smile and verve that’s on display every time Sermersheim whips a kill, that’s also part of the template that she and others have established for the younger Wildcats in waiting.

“She gets so excited, and the excitement carries on through everyone,” said Hochmeister, a sophomore who twice smacked low sets for putaways as the Cats eased away in the final set.

“Whenever I watched Shelby last year, I was constantly amazed at how — first of all, she was just really talented — but then another thing was I thought her spirit and her passion for the game, I really liked that. And I think if you’re really passionate about a sport, you excel more.”

On a related thread, the Cats coasted beyond Tuesday’s first set after Milligan forcefully implored her team for more effort and energy in a timeout huddle.

Michala Flamion satisfied the demand in the second set, sprinting to sprawl and save a ball dipping toward the back line. Teammate Emma Stout popped the ball behind her head, and after the shot initially appeared to be careening long on Lincoln’s side, it spun into the corner. Perfect winner. An unorthodox way to a point, but it worked for a Jasper team trying to assume an advantage earlier within rallies.

“They came out the second set more aggressive, especially we’ve been working really hard on serving aggressive,” Milligan said. “Our second and third sets we definitely did a lot of good things with our serving.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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