Forest Park's 'amazing' run comes to an end

Photo by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Forest Park's Megan Gogel watches her teammates play during Saturday's Class 2A sectional championship game against Evansville Mater Dei in Ferdinand. The Rangers were defeated 3-1 by the Wildcats (11-25, 16-25, 25-22, 14-25) but the long, extended postseason run Forest Park went on won't be forgotten for a long time as the underclassmen will look to build on this run for next season. For more photos from the championship match, click here.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

FERDINAND — The Forest Park Rangers had a tough slog through the regular season before the sectional tournament.

They had only managed to win four matches all year, but the Rangers coaching staff led by Alexa Rasche had a message that she hoped her girls would take to heart before the postseason.

“We wanted them to go in with the mindset that we’re going in starting at zero,” Rasche said. “The season doesn’t determine the winner. We tried to get that into their heads.”

And with that Forest Park started their run through sectional. They first scored a 3-0 victory over the Perry Central Commodores in the first round. Next the Rangers were able to pull out a tight 3-2 win over the North Posey Vikings to earn a berth in the finals. But the magic ran out in the championship match. Forest Park demonstrated a good bit of toughness and resilience in their match, but the Rangers fell to the Evansville Mater Dei Wildcats 3-1 on Saturday night.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the fight that they gave the entire time,” said Rasche. “Even when we were down they still tried to pick each other up. The whole fight (they showed) throughout the entire tournament, I’m so proud.”

Mater Dei was able to get out to a strong 9-1 lead in the first set to set the pace on Forest Park. It was difficult for the Rangers to come back from that hole as the Wildcats used aggressive plays at the net to overpower them. When it was all said and done the combined might of Mater Dei’s Rachel Luigs, Payton Pokorney, Cali Paul and Kelsey Carr powered the Wildcats to 25-11 win in the opening game.

Mater Dei got off to another fast start in the second set, this time to the tune of 8-2. However, the frontline for the Rangers started to wake up as junior hitters Macie Zink and Faith Zazzetti tried to crank up the intensity for Forest Park. But the Wildcats absorbed the surges and kept up their pressure. It wasn’t a cakewalk, but Mater Dei was able to secure the second set, 25-16.

But even down 2-0, Forest Park was determined to keep on fighting on the court. To that end, both teams split the first eight points of the third set. Then the Rangers gained some momentum, going on a 4-1 run to take control of the game. Mater Dei tried to battle back, but every time they built up any steam, one of the Forest Park hitters would attack the net and score a critical kill which halted the momentum.

The runs kept coming for Forest Park. They didn’t get by on extended scoring episodes, rather it was the consistent two and three point bursts coupled with key defensive stands that allowed the Rangers to keep their lead on the Wildcats throughout the third set. Mater Dei kept trying to press, but they couldn’t find the open spots on the floor like they did in the earlier sets. That combined with Forest Park’s steady pace allowed the Rangers to fight back and take the third set 25-22.

But the girls seemed to reach their limit after that. In the fourth set Mater Dei once again found itself on the better end of a 5-1 head start. Forest Park kept playing and doing their best to challenge Mater Dei’s shots, but the girls just looked a step slow in that final set, wearied from their efforts to extend the match in the third. The Wildcats found their groove and finished the match 25-14 to win the sectional title.

Understandably the girls were overcome with emotions after the game. It was hard to finish the season with a loss on their home floor, but they had fought through a tough run to even reach that point. They were determined to not let themselves be defined by their regular season record, and instead decided to leave it on the floor in sectional and let their play take them to their final destination.

“This whole tournament run we played amazing together,” said Zazzetti. “We were just going to stay in the moment, not think back on how we played before. We came together but we just couldn’t finish it. I’m never going to forget this team.”

Rasche said one of the biggest challenges was making sure that her team had the confidence to go out and know they could compete with their opponents on any given night.

She wanted them to realize that the good plays they made weren’t accidents, and they just had to find the consistency necessary to make the good plays habitual. She believes that, despite the poor regular season, this tournament run was just what the team needed in order to learn just how good they can be.

And it’s a lesson she hopes the girls bring back to the court next fall.

“This week was phenomenal,” Rasche said. “We told them before the tournament started that everyone is on the same playing field, you never know what’s going to happen. So you have to come into this knowing you could be a brand new team or the same team you were during the season. They decided to choose the latter, and it was truly incredible. I hope they can take this play we ended with and continue it on (to next year).”




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