Cats solve first of many big moments

Caitlin O'Hara/The Herald
Jasper senior Lydia Schmitt sent a serve to Heritage Hills during Tuesday’s matchup of volleyball rivals in Lincoln City, where Schmitt’s eight digs helped the Wildcats assemble a 25-6, 30-28, 25-14 sweep of the Class 3A No. 9 Patriots. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

LINCOLN CITY — Playing with a cushion is nice. But the Jasper realizes that before long, its days of laugh-y, happy, no-stress volleyball aren’t going to come as easily.

The Wildcats just hope they’re ready.

That’s why after a runaway win last week against a solid Princeton team and a first-set flattening of Heritage Hills on Tuesday night in Lincoln City, the Wildcats weren’t all that perturbed when their crisp play cooled and the Class 3A No. 9 Patriots introduced some doubt. Weathering their first stress test of the season in a lively Heritage Hills gym, the Wildcats closed a 25-6, 30-28, 25-14 sweep. They were able to package both dominance and resilience in the same night, which proved to be just another nugget of assurance for a team ready for a crescendo in competition as the season progresses.

“It’s tough whenever you beat someone so much the first game to just give it your all the second game, but I guess we recognized that later in the game, just in time,” said Wildcat junior middle hitter Reagan Hochmeister, who joined teammate Michala Flamion in each ripping six aces.

“It’s preparing us for bigger teams this season. And we’re learning to fight back, obviously, so it was good.”

Jasper (2-0) wants to bank all the confidence it can for an upcoming stretch that starts with Saturday’s visit from Class 4A No. 3 Floyd Central. Then comes next Tuesday’s skirmish with a Mount Vernon team that’s denied them the Big Eight Conference crown the last two seasons. Barr-Reeve and Evansville Mater Dei, both ranked near the top of their respective classes, loom in the following weeks. And oh, by the way, in between the Cats are matched up in the Sept. 6 Providence Invitational against Indianapolis Cathedral, the top-ranked team in the nation.

Seemingly every match is a big match in the first half of the Cats’ schedule, and Heritage Hills also seemed to grip the same feeling of importance.

Tuesday was the volleyball team’s designated spirit night, as Patriot players tossed packaged homemade cookies into the stands during introductions, and the intermission between sets 1 and 2 lasted a few minutes extra as Patriot student fans stepped onto the floor and had three minutes to serve balls and hit targets for the chance to win pizza and T-shirts.

Jasper coach Liz Milligan practically foresaw her team’s second-set doldrums — both because of the almost-inevitable letdown after a lopsided opening set, and because the Cats switched benches and were stationed right by a lively Patriot student section that also taped pink K’s on the wall for each Heritage Hills kill (the most being posted for Madi Fella and her 15 kills). Being in the crosshairs of student-section volume didn’t ruffle Hochmeister much, though, as she served the Cats from 21-18 down to 22-21 ahead with a jump serve that’s “kind of shaky yet ... but when it’s on, it’s on,” Milligan said.

Hochmeister just started it this season and is still trying to meld all the components of the jump-serve — her running approach that begins near the wall, the leg-kick back as she leaves her feet, the toss, the leap and finally the contact. Fine-tuning that symphony of moving parts may not be the toughest part, though.

“I think I can get the technique down. It’s just when the ball’s in the air, it’s mental,” she said.

The same challenge greeted the Patriots (4-1) when they had two game points to close out the second set. Both times, serves failed to clear the net. Still, Heritage Hills coach Annie Gunselman credited her team for being that close after a dreary first set.

“It was just like, ‘Who are you people?’” Gunselman wondered about her players, able to good-naturedly laugh about it afterward.

“They did start over and they did have a little bit more competitive edge,” she added.

The Patriots’ second-set response “brought (us) back down to earth a little bit,” Milligan said, as Fella further powered it with her nine aces while Miriah Leibeing dealt 17 assists, Ashley Mosby offered eight digs and Claire Dilger posted four blocks. The rally lost horsepower in the final set, but with a first week that included an invitational title at Evansville Memorial and a climb into the rankings, it was the first step to restoring order in Gunselman’s eyes.

“Last year we started 0-7 and that was like, ‘Holy cow,’” Gunselman said. “Even though we have a lot of seniors, I feel like we have a lot of room for growth in physical game as well as mental game. Having some of those early wins was nice. (Tuesday’s loss) was kind of nice in some ways. You get kind of confident and say, ‘OK, we’ve got this all mastered,’ and (Jasper) did a good job of exposing our weaknesses. It’s good, but we’re also learning too.”

Ditto for the Cats, who figure they learned a little something from being bumped from their comfort zone — even Milligan, who typically likes to stand at the end of the bench during the match but instead took a seat at the other end during the second set, so as to not have the Pats’ student fans hovering over her.

“It kind of throws you off. Just the little things like that can throw you off a little bit,” said Milligan, whose team also picked up 12 kills from Elisabeth Ahlbrand, 10 more from Flamion, 32 assists from Teyah Leinenbach and 11 digs from Rachel Sternberg.

“But it’s good to have games like that, because it kind of develops your character, and you know you can come back and win a game like that.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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