Back-and-forth battle falls just short for Jasper

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
After losing a Class 4A sectional volleyball championship title to Castle on Saturday night, Jasper’s Riley Merder, back left, comforted teammate Libby Bell while Anna Moeller hugged Mariah Seifert at Evansville Harrison High School. Castle defeated Jasper 14-25, 25-15, 25-22, 19-25, 15-11 to win its 24th consecutive sectional volleyball title. For more photos from the match, click here.


EVANSVILLE — Facing an opponent it had dropped a 3-0 decision to earlier in the season, the Jasper volleyball team had a strong message for Castle the second time around in Saturday’s Class 4A Evansville Harrison Sectional championship match.

There would be no easy victory in this match.

“Everybody went out with the same intensity. We all had heart for one another, and we came together to play the hardest we could,” Wildcat Libby Bell said. “We all wanted this, but in the end it just didn’t work out. We had the drive and energy to win, and that’s what matters.”’

The Knights defeated the Wildcats 14-25, 25-15, 25-22, 19-25, 15-11 in a five-set match for their 24th consecutive sectional title in a battle that didn’t let up until the very end.

Jasper (24-11) opened the match with an electric start as it took a 6-1 lead in the first set and forced an early Castle timeout. The Wildcats took set one amid a bevy of cheers from the Jasper faithful who made the trip to Evansville, making the match feel like it was being played back in Dubois County.

After dropping the first set, the Knights (28-6) went on to win two in a row, fighting back from a 10-6 deficit in the second stanza.

In the fourth set, the Cats looked to seniors Maddie Edwards (21 kills, three blocks) and Bell (13 kills, 10 digs) to bring them to a match-deciding fifth set, and once Reagan Egbert put down one of her nine kills on the night for point No. 25, the Wildcats knew anything was possible in the final game.

“Our motto going into (Saturday night) was that they weren’t going to shut us down, we were going to show them who we were,” Edwards said. “After losing 3-0 early in the season, we weren’t going to have that again, not in the championship match.”

Castle jumped out to a 7-0 start in the fifth set, but if history has taught viewers anything about the Cats, they weren’t going to roll over and let the Knights waltz into the regional round.

Jasper used two 3-0 runs to claw its way back into striking distance, getting as close as two points at 13-11. But Castle won the final two points of the night to earn a trip to Seymour next weekend.

“I’m incredibly proud of each and every one of these girls,” Jasper coach Liz Milligan said. “All I asked of them was to leave everything out there on the court and not have any regrets, and I know we did that.”

Jasper will graduate seven seniors from this year’s varsity team, including Edwards and the Bell triplets — Libby, Katey, Avery, who all started for the Cats in Saturday’s championship match.

Milligan knows the group of graduating seniors, which also includes Mariah Seifert, Anna Moeller and Jocelynn Morrow, will have a lasting impact on what it means to be a Wildcat volleyball player.

“I feel like I’ve had these girls on my team for 10 years. I’m really going to hate to see them go,” Milligan said.

“They’re the heart and soul of this team, and they’re not only great athletes but they’re also great students and a positive influences on our underclassmen. Their legacy will be felt around this program for a very long time.”

Natalie Wigand, a junior setter who finished the match with 25 assists and 11 digs, said the lessons the senior class taught her and other underclassmen will stick with them for awhile.

“They definitely taught us team unity. This year’s team was close to one another, and we always had each other’s backs and believed in one another at all times,” Wigand said. “We’ve always been close, but I don’t think we’ve ever been as close as we were this season. There’s going to be some big shoes to fill next year.”

Wigand joins juniors Taylor Wildman and Rylee Hedinger and sophomores Egbert, Riley Merder and Kate Green as 2018 returnees who saw extended varsity action this season, and all also played major roles in the match against Castle.

Jasper’s Maddie Edwards, left, and Avery Bell jumped to block a kill attempt from Castle’s Jessica Nunge in the fourth set of Castle’s 3-2 victory. Bell led the team with four blocks while Edwards added three of her own along with a team-leading 21 kills. For more photos from the match, click here.

Libby Bell said she has faith the returning members will maintain the success the Wildcat volleyball program has had over the years — as long as they remain dedicated and keep their eye on the prize.

“Passion and heart into what you do really matters. You have to truly love what you do to give a 100 percent in it,” Bell said. “As seniors, we tried to teach them to be focused and determined and always have a next-ball mentality. It’s important to move on from mistakes, in any game or match.”

Looking back to when they first started as freshmen, both Bell and Edwards noted a growth they weren’t sure would even be possible when they entered the program — both in their playing careers and the lessons they’ve learned from playing volleyball with Jasper.

“When I joined, I set goals for myself to reach 1,000 kills and to play volleyball collegiately, and I’ve accomplished both of those,” said Edwards, who will play volleyball at Hanover College next year. “I never thought I’d be where I’m at right now.”

“I remember when I was a freshman and I’d just hit the ball out every time or swing into the net, and to come from that to this shows me I’ve really grown,” Libby Bell added. “I remember an old senior, Elisabeth Ahlbrand, telling me how she played as a freshman and then her senior year she was amazing and I thought, ‘Wow, someday that’s going to be me.’ It’s been a great experience.”

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