In stereo: Cats drop state-ranked foe

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jasper volleyball coach Liz Milligan, foreground center, embraced Rylee Hedinger, left, and Reagan Egbert on Staurday after the Wildcats’ 2-0 championship-match victory against No. 19 Evansville Memorial in the Jasper Invitational. The Wildcats improved to 10-0 at home this season with four triumphs in the tournament. For more photos from the tournament, click here.


JASPER — Athletes often credit a vast array of influences for their success, with hard work, good coaching, supportive family and assistance from teammates among the clubhouse leaders.

So what did Jasper volleyball seniors Maddie Edwards and Mariah Seifert list as key to keeping their team in a groove en route to it winning Saturday’s Jasper Invitational?

Loud music and healthy food.

That combination did wonders for the Wildcats on their home court, which played host to four Jasper victories in the round-robin contest. In the championship match, the Wildcats (19-10) knocked off No. 19 Evansville Memorial in two sets to avenge a three-set defeat to the Tigers earlier this season.

“They are one of our biggest rivals,” Edwards said. “They beat us during regional last year, they beat us during (this) season, and we wanted revenge.”

“And we’re in our house, so I said, ‘It’s our home court, let’s go,’” Seifert added.

And go Jasper did, not allowing 20 points in any of its eight games Saturday against Evansville Memorial, Evansville Central, North Posey and Evansville Harrison.

The tunes emanating throughout the squad’s gymnasium had an impact on that performance as well, according to Seifert.

“That’s a big thing, actually, our music,” she said. “We have to play certain songs to get us hyped. For sure before the Memorial game, I was making sure there was good music. We were all excited.”

Edwards said the Cats don’t prefer any particular artist or band. They simply seek “very upbeat, loud hip-hop.”

Jasper’s Riley Merder, left, and Avery Bell went up for a block versus Evansville Central during a pool-play match Saturday. For more photos from the tournament, click here.

Jasper coach Liz Milligan is all for what she calls “fire-up music” if it keeps her girls rolling through competitors.

“We’re hard on them in practice, but we also try to stress that there needs to be some kind of fun in the game as well,” Milligan said.

In a tournament setting — the Jasper Invitational started at 10 a.m. and finished around 5 p.m. — Milligan and her players said paying attention to nutrition is also critical if the group is going to pile up victories.

“(In the team’s third match, against Evansville Central) we were all like, ‘We’re playing for food here. After this, we can go eat,’” Seifert said.

Sufficiently hyped and fed prior to the championship bout with Evansville Memorial, the Cats overcame both Class 3A’s sixth-ranked unit and its noticeable fan section that had made the trip east. Jasper didn’t need much motivation, either, considering the earlier result between the teams this season.

“We knew at the beginning of the day we were probably going to be playing Memorial,” Milligan said. “They were pumped up because it just didn’t end well down there. I kind of had a feeling we were going to win (Saturday’s) game pretty handily.”

On top of that, the Wildcats were pushed by the fact they had — and still have — no losses on their own hardwood this season. Saturday’s results ran Jasper’s home record to 10-0 in 2017, with two matches remaining.

“Our senior year, we haven’t lost on our home court,” Seifert said. “We for sure didn’t want to do it against Memorial.”

But in case any of the Wildcats needed a boost during the invitational, it was likely they could get it from Edwards. Milligan described Edwards as “the motivational leader in the whole pack.” There was no bigger evidence of that from a playing perspective Saturday than when Edwards put so much force behind one return against Evansville Memorial that it knocked an opponent off her feet.

“She plays with so much heart,” Milligan said. “You can see it out there, and usually how she goes is how a lot of her teammates will go.”

Edwards said she was especially encouraged by Saturday’s result because two of the four teams Jasper defeated — Evansville Central and Evansville Harrison — will compete with the Wildcats next month in the Class 4A Evansville Harrison Sectional.

So it’s all systems go right now for Jasper, which continues its regular season Tuesday by hosting Big Eight Conference foe Mount Carmel. But even if the results get off track for the Wildcats later this season, they’ll just turn to a music playlist to nudge themselves back in the right direction.

“You just have to know your people,” Seifert said. “When you get out there and somebody’s down, you’ve got to pick them up. You’ve got to make sure everybody’s up and excited.”

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