Together, Jasper finally hitting stride

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Michala Flamion, left, Emma Stout, Teyah Leinenbach and Abby Pierce celebrated a point during the Wildcats’ match against Evansville Central in Saturday’s Jasper Invitational at Jasper High School. The Cats clawed past the Bears 25-21, 25-23 for one of their three straight-set victories on the day. Castle defeated Jasper 25-15, 25-22 in the championship. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — When the doors closed, Liz Milligan was a bit nervous, she admitted.

The Jasper volleyball coach was the first to speak at Wednesday’s private team meeting, at which every player was afforded the opportunity to voice any concern, critique or complaint she had about the team, a player or — most nerve-racking for Milligan — the coach. Everything said stayed in the locker room.

“They just let it all out there,” Milligan said.

It began with the obvious player. After Milligan said a few things, she left it up to Katie Krempp, the team’s vocal leader, “who’s never at a loss for words,” her coach said.

“She got it all going and got the ice broken,” Milligan said.

Something clicked. The Wildcats went on to sweep Southridge in straight sets Thursday before barreling into Saturday’s eight-team invitational at the Jasper High School gym with a verve the first-year Cat coach “had been asking for from the get-go.”

The weekend challenge awarded Jasper straight-set conquests of Evansville Memorial (25-13, 25-18), Evansville Central (25-21, 25-14) and North Posey (27-25, 25-23) before finally bowing out to Castle 25-15, 25-22 in the championship.

Nonetheless, things were — and hopefully are — different for the Cats (10-12). Saturday’s showing expressed a rhythm, a swagger, an air of comfort that several on the team agreed simply wasn’t there at the season’s onset.

Krempp referred to the Wednesday team gathering as “an intervention,” which began with nobody wanting to speak up.

“It was really, really awkward (at the beginning),” admitted Krempp, who had surgery on her ankle last week and now faces 31⁄2 months of rehab.

But slowly, they began talking. About underclassmen who appeared fearful of making mistakes. About the upperclassmen’s role of letting others know it’s OK to make those mistakes. About the need for everybody to be accepting of time on the court.

And of course, about the basic message rooted beneath it all.

“If the team wins, everybody’s happy,” Krempp said. “That’s all that matters.”

From the opening match’s first point Saturday — a Michala Flamion dig, Teyah Leinenbach set and Emma Stout kill — the rejuvenation appeared palpable. The energy rarely subsided.

“We were just a completely different team today,” Krempp said. “We rocked it today.”

Flamion, the Cats’ sophomore libero who repeatedly leapt in the air after Jasper notched points, detected the squad’s strengthened spirit as well.

“We kind of struggled at the beginning of the season, but (the energy) has definitely skyrocketed,” Flamion said, raising her hand upward like a plane taking off.

Just like her springy celebrations.

“Oh, I’m jumpin’ everywhere,” kidded Flamion, who led Jasper in digs in three of the four contests.

It was exactly where Milligan wanted to see.

“We came out a whole different team,” she said.

The matches were fun. And every girl, playing and sitting, appeared engaged.

“That (first) game, I don’t know, I just feel like we’re turning a corner,” Milligan said. “Our defense picked it up and made some big plays to get us all fired up, and I think our passing has really come along, which has been a problem all season. But I think we’re starting to turn that corner. I’m getting excited.”

Against Evansville Central, the Wildcats unearthed points of promise on several occasions. After the Bears crept within 15-12 in the opening set, Stout and Leinenbach teamed for a block, after which an ecstatic Stout crouched down while pumping both fists. After points were exchanged without either side generating a run, Tori Sermersheim hammered a Leinenbach set to claim the first frame.

Sermersheim led the attack for Jasper, amassing 53 kills among the four best-of-three matches. Leinenbach averages a tick more than 20 assists per match, including 27 against North Posey, while Elisabeth Ahlbrand augmented the assault with 28 kills on the day.

When Central again inched back to make it 13-9, the Wildcats collaborated for perhaps the defining point of the match. A long rally during which sophomore Reagan Hochmeister blocked two Bear spike attempts eventually led to a flawless tip by Abby Pierce that floated past the Central blockers before landing on the right sideline.

Exuberant, the Cats embraced as the gym’s noise level reached its highest point of the day. From there, Jasper fastened the set and match on a 10-5 run, during which Flamion even performed an abbreviated jig during a timeout.

“Let’s go!” she yelled before returning to the court.

“Everyone is so united,” Krempp said. “The energy is up.”

Flamion gave a similar explanation before coating it with emotion.

“We got up, we stayed up and … yes!,” she said with another fist pump.

With two home matches in the next four days, the Cats could return to .500 for the first time since Aug. 27.

Could Saturday have been the springboard?

“I think so. I think it’s going to be, too,” Pierce said. “I see a lot of good things coming out of this.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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