Dramatics abound, Cats survive in five

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Jaclyn Schmitt, left, Elisabeth Ahlbrand, Tori Sermersheim, Lydia Scherle, and Megan Stenftenagel, celebrated a point during the Wildcats’ Class 3A sectional title match against Heritage HIlls on Saturday night at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium in Jasper. The Cats roared back from two deficits to win 23-25, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 15-10, claiming the program’s 34th sectional title. Jasper will travel to Mount Vernon on Tuesday for a one-match regional. For more photos, click here.


Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Lydia Scherle had one problem. She couldn’t stop moving.

In pregame. In timeouts. Between sets. The senior simply wasn’t able to sit down thanks to the rush the occasion brought about.

And with the Jasper volleyball team down by two points midway through the third set of Saturday’s Class 3A sectional championship against Heritage Hills, the Wildcat senior setter had everyone else out of their seats as well.

After a dig attempt off a Patriot spike ricocheted beyond the right sideline, Scherle tracked down the descending ball, sailing it over her head and the net as she bounded into the scorer’s table.

The Patriots weren’t able to corral the lofted ball, perhaps out of relative befuddlement that it was still in play. Point, Wildcats.

Heritage Hills’ Abby Fischer, left, and C.J. Nance elevated in an attempt to block a spike from Jasper’s Annie Huebner. Huebner finished with 19 digs and delivered the final point of the match with a kill.

The flurry epitomized a match that concluded more aptly in outlasting than in victory and defeat. Confronted by a one-set deficit after three frames, the Wildcats endured 23-25, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 15-10 in a raucous Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, securing their 34th sectional crown and a regional date at Mount Vernon (29-3) on Tuesday.
In a frenzied battle where advantage became difficult to decipher, points were rarely collected with ease. Instead, long, seemingly endless rallies grew to be the norm. Easy points entered extinction, Scherle said.

“Every point, we had to fight for,” said Scherle, who dealt out 34 assists. “There wasn’t one point where it was just given to us. Every point, we had to earn.”

The point presented itself in the match’s gaudy numbers. Wildcat libero Jaclyn Schmitt registered a team-high 47 digs, with Annie Huebner and Scherle accruing 19 and 18, respectively. Middle hitter Shelby Merder stockpiled 13 blocks, with Megan Stenftenagel (four blocks) and Abby Rogers (three) supplementing the effort.

Merder (28 kills) remained constantly involved in battles above the net with her Patriot counterpart Madi Fella (19 kills, three blocks) and standout Kaebra LaGrange. Per usual, LaGrange involved herself as both a distributor (27 assists) and finisher (25 kills) in the Patriot offense.

After nearly two hours of play, Jasper (28-8) blazed to an early advantage in the fifth and final set, grabbing eight of the first nine points. The Patriots faintly re-entered the picture at 14-10, but three Huebner spikes — two for kills off of Rachel Sternberg (18 assists) sets — granted the Wildcats the three final points.

For Huebner, in a gym that one longtime fan claimed was the loudest he’s ever heard it, the triumph ironically came to fruition by eliminating the outer elements. The noise ceased to exist.

“We just try to block out all the chaos and all the fans,” Huebner said. “We just try to focus on the game, one play at a time, and get it done.”

The intensity of the match, and the resistance the Patriots (23-8) supplied, came as no surprise to Jasper coach Deborah Giesler. Especially considering the Wildcats eliminated the Patriots in last season’s sectional, and the grade of play in their four-set win in Lincoln City on Aug. 21. In fact, that’s what made it as enjoyable as it was.

“Heritage Hills, you know, they are always scrappy and such a big rival for us,” Giesler said. “I feel like our schools are so similar, our athletes are so similar, and just so competitive. It’s a fun game to watch. I’m thrilled with the outcome, but just watching good volleyball.

“We knew it was going to be a battle going into it. … They made us work for every point we got. And that was our goal. I told the girls, I said, ‘This is a good team you’re playing. They’re going to earn points. Let’s just not give them any freebies.’”
Both sides showcased the sentiment from start to finish.

Amid a seven-point Patriot run in the second set that brought them to within 20-17, libero Hayli Scott (28 digs) retrieved two diving digs and Abby Fischer hit the hardwood to recover a Wildcat spike as well. All three plunges occurred on the same point.

For Jasper’s 10th point of the fourth set, Huebner (13 kills) recouped a thunderous spike from LaGrange. After the Patriots rebutted by retrieving a spike from Tori Sermersheim (11 kills), Rogers laced a ball on the Cats’ subsequent possession to seal the point.

The fact Jasper never trailed in either the fourth or fifth set is somewhat distorted reality to the match’s parity. All told, the marathon was decided by a mere 10-point difference.

What caused the separation were a few mental errors at crucial points, Heritage Hills coach Annie Gunselman said. It wasn’t so much that the Patriots were tight as it was being out of sync in the closing sets. However, the energy undoubtably exhibited itself.

“There were a number of times our players were rolling on top of each other and falling and you’d look and Jasper would be doing the same thing,” Gunselman said. “I thought it was a very hard-fought game and both sides were playing very, very well most of the time.”

Nevertheless, the match brought an end to the careers of Mallori Hirt (13 kills), Fischer, Scott and LaGrange. The effort was there from each of them, Gunselman said, and the voids remaining from each’s departure will be trying to fill, particularly LaGrange, who Gunselman said was a player of a very distinct caliber.

However, solace can be found in endeavors of younger players like sophomores Miriah Leibering (20 digs, three aces) and April Kippenbrock, who filled in for Hirt as she battled injury.

“For the age that we had and the injuries we battled all year, I’m really pleased with how we came along,” Gunselman said.

All things considered, the match’s outcome remained ambiguous until the very end, a testament to the levelness that made it such a thrill to witness.

“That’s what made this so exciting,” Giesler said. “Just both sides. Everybody knew their teams were capable of winning tonight. And it was just going to be whoever things worked out a little bit better for. … I don’t think anyone can be disappointed.

“People definitely got their money’s worth.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.


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