Cats get comfortable, thwart Alices

Olivia Corya/The Herald
Jasper’s Tori Sermersheim (8), Shelby Merder (9), Lydia Scherle and Katie Krempp linked hands as they waited for the start of Thursday’s Class 3A volleyball sectional match against Vincennes Lincoln at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium. The Wildcats dismissed the Alices 25-10, 25-10, 25-15 to reach Saturday’s semifinals, where they’ll confront Pike Central at 11 a.m. For a gallery of photos, click here.


Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Let’s face it, playing in the state tournament can be as tense as an Olympic weightlifter’s shoulders.

Points are heavily contested. Gaining separation occasionally proves more trying than expected. Give a team hope and a grueling match is sure to ensue.

So for Jasper, the micro goal within each set is simple: find the comfort zone — a brisk swing in momentum when things just click, points accumulate like autumn leaves in a yard, and in the blink of an eye, the set feels well in hand.

In their first-round Class 3A sectional bout against rival Vincennes Lincoln at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, the Wildcats found the state of serenity at timely moments of each of the first three sets, catapulting them to a 25-10, 25-10, 25-15 triumph and a date in Saturday’s semifinals against Pike Central.

At the outset of each frame, getting traction can be a difficult thing to do, especially with the weight of the occasion, Wildcat libero Jaclyn Schmitt said. When a mini-run is finally summoned, it affords a collective exhale.

“It feels like you have a comfort zone kind of. It’s like, ‘We have a little bit of a lead now, so let’s just keep it and keep pushing and finish,’” Schmitt said.

With a 10-8 count in the opening set, the Wildcats orchestrated a 15-2 run to close the set. In the following frame, both teams were level at 6 before Jasper belted out a 19-4 run. Finally, a 13-1 run part way through the concluding segment helped secure the match, and permitted Wildcat coach Deborah Giesler to give inexperienced players a firsthand feel for the tournament.

Nonetheless, the nerves were there. But hey, that’s the tournament. What’s important is simply remembering what works, Giesler said.

“Even Jaclyn, she said, ‘I’m nervous.’ And I told her, ‘You have to play it like any other game. It’s just another game,’” Giesler said. “Once they see, ‘Oh yeah, our offense still works,’ then they start to relax a little bit. And I think they did a quicker job of that tonight than some times we have in the past.”

While Giesler characterized the Cats’ Sept. 4 win over the Alices as “sloppy” and one in which she “didn’t recognize the team,” Thursday’s effort emphasized efficiency and the ability to close out sets when given the chance. Points may not always be pretty, but that’s OK. A heady play counts just as much as a glamorous slam.

Shelby Merder, the Wildcat middle hitter known for her thunderous spikes, gently tipped a shot for Jasper’s 10th point in the opening set. Katie Krempp followed suit for the Wildcats’ 22nd and 24th points of the match, opting for finesse over force. Tori Sermersheim installed a tip kill to her signature slide in the second frame, and setter Lydia Scherle caught the Alices off guard by dumping a shot to unguarded hardwood during the same set.

“That’s what’s so great and fun about volleyball, is that even if it’s a fluke play … a kill is a kill,” Giesler said. “You have players that get excited when it’s a big kill, but I think a smart one is just as nice. … And I think the girls are starting to appreciate that.”

Giesler’s concern was making sure the team entered Thursday with a mindset fusing caution and assertiveness. The urgency players feel in the tournament, knowing that each match could be their last acts, can act as a scary equalizer. It’s a feeling which Schmitt knows quite well.

“All season, you’re looking forward to (the tournament),” Schmitt said. “We approach it and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we know, it’s coming in a couple weeks.’ And then it finally gets here and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really it. This is really my last year.’ It’s scary.”

If there were nerves, the team’s production didn’t suggest it. Schmitt tallied a team-high 21 digs while Rachel Sternberg (12 digs) and Annie Huebner (10) aided in preserving rallies. Shelby Merder and Megan Stenftenagel bolstered the defense with a combined seven blocks.

Merder maintained her mastery offensively as well, pelting a match-high 16 kills, while Tori Sermersheim supplemented the attack with 10 kills. Lydia Scherle and Sternberg once again doled out sets to all angles, collaring 21 and 15 assists, respectively.

In Giesler’s mind, every second on the court up to this point has been pure preparation. That’s often tough for a squad to comprehend, she said, which is what makes this group all the more unique.

“Records at the end of the season don’t mean anything. It’s what you learned from those matches during the season,” Giesler said. “And I feel like this team has really fought hard to improve whether we won or lost during the season. And that’s because they’re trying to get something out of it. You don’t always get groups that want to learn something about themselves and their teammates and what they’re capable of doing.

“This group has really done a good job of wanting to push their limits, wanting to see how they can fix things against really good teams. Hopefully that will help us as we progress through the tournament.”

With 34 matches, four tournaments and 2 1/2 months of practices behind them, the fruits of the Wildcats’ labor are being to be revealed. And there’s comfort in that.

Contact Joe Jasinski at

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