Wildcats roll with late-season punches

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Abby Pierce bumped the ball in Thursday’s 25-18, 25-19, 25-12 sweep for the Wildcats over county rival Southridge at Huntingburg. Jasper sprang to leads of 10-1 and 8-1 in the first two sets before finishing the final set on a 15-5 spree. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — Ah, the home stretch of the volleyball season. Time to usher back in players who’ve been hurt, fine-tune something here or there, and go strolling toward postseason play.

Er, scratch that. For Jasper, it’s different.

The home stretch of the season: Continue evaluating uncertainties on the injury list,  introduce a new offensive wrinkle, keep shuffling players and gather for a heart-to-heart team meeting.

It’s been that sort of scattered season for the Wildcats. It took a pace back toward normalcy with Thursday’s 25-18, 25-19, 25-12 sweep at rival Southridge. With three weeks left in the regular season, though, the Wildcats still find themselves confronting questions they expected to have figured out by now.

“Right now we’re still struggling to try to find our identity and what we’re exactly wanting to do here,” Jasper coach Liz Milligan said. “We’ve been trying to run a different offense, we tried that down at Mater Dei (on Tuesday). I think it went well, but something just told me I think we should just stick with our 5-1 offense and just go with that. Tonight I thought it went really well. Here on out, we’ve got to make some decisions, and it’s going to be a tough one, but we’ve got to stick with something and go.”

Unfortunately, Milligan said, it may be time to accept the reality that four players who could have potentially been starters won’t be back at all this season. Foot injuries have beset Katie Krempp and Sophie Weidenbenner, Alex Krapf is still out with a concussion and Rachel Sternberg joined the DL a few matches into the season with what Milligan termed a “freak injury” as she stretched ligaments in the top of her foot.

More players have joined the auditions as Milligan continues to toy with her group’s chemistry. Sophomore Katelyn Hedinger, whom Milligan said can read tips and defenses effectively, earned plenty of playing time Thursday and put away an over-passed shot as the Cats bounded to an 8-1 lead in the first set after scooting to an 11-1 start in the opening game.

Stout


Hedinger joined the varsity mix this week, as did Kinsey Bromm, the JV setter who became part of the two-setter offense. Milligan said “they did a fantastic job for getting stuck in (a varsity match) without any practice.” All part of the Cats’ elastic nature.

“That’s kind of our motto: Go with the flow,” said Wildcat junior Emma Stout, who totaled seven kills Thursday. “We’re still trying to figure things out, but I think it’ll all end up coming out good, hopefully, in the tournament.”

The single-setter regime resurfaced Thursday, as Teyah Leinenbach (35 assists, three aces) abetted another beastly night by Tori Sermersheim. The Wildcat senior walloped 25 kills and Jasper (7-11) also picked up 15 digs from Mariah Moeller and 14 more by Michala Flamion.

Milligan wasn’t poring over numbers, though. It was body language she was interested in.

Stout, for one, rejoiced after her kills with a double-pump of the arms as she came alive later in the match. The Cats’ coach deemed “the enthusiasm was great tonight” following a team meeting that Milligan called on Wednesday.

“I think we’re kind of rejuvenated with the things the girls had to say yesterday,” Milligan said. “We kind of aired things out. I think with that, heading down here the stretch, we’re going to be headed in the right direction now.”

“It got us refreshed and kind of had a new start and kind of reset our minds, figure things out,” Stout added. “We definitely had some losses, but we’ve always been playing hard. We just needed to finish the game. We weren’t really doing that before, but we definitely needed this to get our confidence back up.”

Southridge (1-16) has been waiting for a similar jolt of good news. The Raiders have been stuck on one win since Aug. 24 despite Thursday’s efforts from Haley Langebrake (five kills, three aces), Sydney Altmeyer (six kills), Kayla Voegerl (five kills, 11 digs), Maddie Lubbehusen (19 digs) and Grace Kappner (15 assists).

Victories have been scarce, but progress has been incremental and Raider coach Sarah Rogers said she hasn’t had to cheerlead for morale.

“They’ve definitely had to grow up a lot, and what is so surprising is how excited and enthusiastic they are on the court, considering the record that we have and the losses that we have,” Rogers said. “They’re upset in the locker room — everybody is after you get beat — but then the next day we kind of have to move on, we can’t dwell on the losses. If we did, we’d get beat 25-0 every game.”

The Raiders don’t slouch because their backers, don’t, either.

Rogers, who’s from Alabama originally, was surprised during Southridge’s first match to see an energetic student section stationed behind her team’s bench. The support hasn’t waned. Howling support as the Raiders rallied in the first two sets, Thursday’s student section included a guy in a red afro wig and a kid wearing a cape and a plastic blue crown — as well as one fan who instigated “The Wave” between the second and third sets by pointing at the crowd with a jumbo aqua-colored crayon as he ran from side to side.

“They’re here every game, win or lose, they’re here supporting each other. Same thing at football games, the volleyball team is supporting the football team,” Rogers said. “And I think that’s just how it is here at Southridge. Everybody supports everybody.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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