Bevy of obstacles can’t stop WildcatsOctober 13, 2017
By COLIN LIKAS
EVANSVILLE — Plenty of circumstances could have derailed the Jasper volleyball team during Thursday’s Class 4A Evansville Harrison Sectional quarterfinal match against the host school.
Moving both from a sectional on its home court and from Class 3A to 4A in postseason play. The hourlong trip to compete in an event featuring five Evansville-area squads. That match against the Warriors starting an hour late due to the earlier bout going five sets. The raucous gymnasium atmosphere, complete with a low ceiling and surprisingly bright lights.
So how did the Wildcats ease to a 25-10, 25-17, 25-19 victory over the Warriors to move on to Saturday’s semifinal round? Some of the answer could be found in Jasper’s athletes dancing to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” prior to facing Harrison, at the behest of junior varsity coach Gina Schuetter.
“They’re just so relaxed tonight,” varsity coach Liz Milligan said. “They like to have fun, but they love their volleyball. They’re so focused, and they know what they want to accomplish here in the sectional.”
That would be bringing home a championship, and the Wildcats (24-10) moved a step closer to that thanks to a dominant opening set against the Warriors (8-16). After falling behind 2-0, Jasper rode the attack power of Maddie Edwards and Avery Bell, as well as at least one ace from five different players, to an early advantage.
“First set we had very good communication,” Edwards said. “We knew what we were running, we knew what we were doing. Second and third sets, kind of fell short a little bit.”
As the match wore on, errors became a recurring theme for the Wildcats. That was especially true from the service line, as Milligan said her staff recorded 14 misserves across all three sets. The coach said that while she was willing to look at the positive side of that total — the fact Jasper was frequently serving, meaning it was consistently scoring points — she also wants the Wildcats to clean things up.
“We’re going to have to correct that,” Milligan said. “It seems like we come out and we’re so fired up, we’re so focused. And then Set 2 comes and Set 3, and we’re just (not as focused). So we need to find a way to be able to sustain that excitement through the whole match.”
From a mental standpoint, Jasper’s Reagan Egbert said the Wildcats are well adapted to rebounding from lows in their matches.
“When we get down, I think our team is really good at helping each other get up,” said Egbert, who tallied eight kills against Harrison. “We have this system where if a person is getting down on themselves, you just have to go up to them and tell them to get their head up. And I think that really helps us throughout the game.”
Egbert and Edwards, the latter of whom led the Wildcats with 16 kills, credited setters Natalie Wigand (23 assists) and Kate Green (13 assists) for giving them plenty of chances to drop the hammer on the Warriors.
One of Edwards’ kills, however, was particularly special.
During the second set, the senior smashed a shot onto the hardwood floor to put Jasper ahead 18-13. Milligan called her only timeout of the entire match to recognize Edwards’ 1,000th career kill, sending both Edwards’ teammates and the Wildcat faithful into a frenzy.
Milligan said she wasn’t keen on stopping play at that point, but Edwards was glad it happened.
“Awesome. It was very nice,” Edwards said. “It was a moment kind of to myself where I got to celebrate that with my team. It was very exciting.”
Not everything Thursday had such a positive association for the Wildcats, though. Jasper’s already late night extended even further when Evansville Central and Evansville Reitz went the distance in their quarterfinal bout, with Central pulling out the win.
Then, the entire third set between Jasper and Harrison was accompanied by a Warrior supporter rhythmically banging on a press table before each point began, creating a noise that reverberated throughout the already-noisy arena.
“It was a loud, very loud gym,” Egbert said, noting she was also concerned about the ball hitting her in the face on at least one play after losing it in the lights.
“I don’t know who was playing that drum, but it was really getting on my nerves,” Milligan added with a laugh. “I think the girls, they can play in anything. They don’t care.”
Even before Jasper travels back to Evansville early Saturday for a semifinal match against Central (13-18), the Wildcats will be faced with another possible barrier to success. Jasper football will hold its senior-night game this evening against Mount Vernon, and Milligan said several of her players plan to be in attendance. Multiple footballers filled the volleyball crowd Thursday to back the female athletes.
“Hopefully they’ll get to bed early,” Milligan said of her players, who face an 11:30 a.m. start time against Central on Saturday. “I think they’ll be focused (Saturday), I really do. I think they have something to prove here.”
And while the Bears, whom the Wildcats defeated in two sets at last month’s Jasper Invitational, are next on the docket, one can’t help but wonder about a possible championship showdown with Castle. The Knights (26-6) will square off against Evansville North (21-10) in Saturday’s other semifinal ahead of that night’s title match.
Edwards quickly put a halt on looking ahead to a chance at revenge against Castle, which defeated Jasper 3-0 in an Aug. 15 bout.
“We have to beat Central before we can play them, so we have to focus on that one,” she said.
But Egbert made clear that the Wildcats aren’t ignoring what could be their final obstacle to securing to squad’s first 4A postseason trophy.
“We’re ready for them,” the sophomore said. “In practice, everyone knows we’re just as good of a team as they are.”
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