Jasper seniors leave lasting impression

Photos by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Jasper's Natalie Wigand hugs teammate Kate Green after the Wildcats lost Saturday's Class 4A sectional championship to Castle in Evansville. Castle defeated Jasper 3-0 (25-10, 25-15, 25-9) to eliminate the Wildcats from postseason action. Wigand, Taylor Wildman and Rylee Hedinger — the Cats three graduating seniors — left a mark on the Jasper volleyball program that will be remembered for a long time. For more photos from the championship match, click here.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

EVANSVILLE — There were a lot of tears following Jasper’s sectional championship loss to Castle on Saturday night in Evansville.

But beyond the sadness was a wave of happy memories from a year that saw the Cats accomplish goals that many thought would be hard to attain such as a Big Eight conference championship title and 27 wins. The team also grew very close with one another, perhaps even the strongest bond the team has shared over the past few years.

And for Jasper’s three seniors — setter Natalie Wigand, middle attacker Taylor Wildman and libero Rylee Hedinger — that’s what they’ll remember most about their senior year, not Saturday night’s loss.

“Something that will always stand out to me is how close our teams have always been. We’ve always bonded and pulled together through hard times and that’s what I’ll take away most,” said Wigand following Jasper’s 3-0 (10-25, 15-25, 9-25) loss to the Knights. “It’s not going to be (about) this loss to Castle, it’s going to be about how close our teams were and all the memories we made this year.”

Hedinger added: “That friendship showed on the court — we learned ways to push each other up and find ways to laugh even when we weren’t doing the greatest.”

Jasper head coach Liz Milligan knows it’s going to be difficult to see her seniors leave, as it is every year, but this year may be especially difficult due to the lasting impact the trio had on not only the program but the underclassmen around them.

“These girls are great leaders, great student athletes and they always do what they’re supposed to do,” Milligan said. “This program is going to miss them a lot but what they left here in something the underclassmen will build on in the future and now the program will be better than before.”

The first set started with Castle dominating as they built up a 7-2 lead and never really relinquished in the first set as the Knights rolled to a 25-10 first set victory. However, the second set started in a much different fashion.

Jasper jumped out to a 6-4 lead in the second game thanks to kills from Wildman, Riley Merder and Meredith Hilgefort. However, Castle once again started to go on a run as senior Jessica Nunge started to knock down a large amount of her match-high 23 kills. The Knights would take the lead for good at the 8-7 mark and eventually win the set 25-15.

Once again, the third set started close as Jasper hung around a one or two point deficit for much of the first 10 points or so but Castle ended up going on an extended run to take a 16-7 lead midway through the set and force a Jasper timeout. The Cats would score immediately after the timeout but only scored one more time again after that as the Knights rolled to a 25-9 victory in the third set for a 3-0 sweep. The victory for Castle was their 25th straight sectional championship crown.

Stat leaders for Jasper in the loss were Meredith Hilgefort (eight kills, nine digs), Riley Merder (eight kills), Natalie Wigand (21 assists, 16 digs) and Rylee Hedinger (nine digs).

While several thought this could potentially be a down year for the Wildcats after graduating seven seniors last year, Jasper showed they had what it takes to reach another sectional championship match and accomplish a lot of the goals they set out to reach this year.

“With losing a lot of our firepower last year, I thought come into this season it might be a bit of a rebuilding year but (this team) really stepped up,” Milligan said.

Wigand added: “We always said this year was supposed to be a rebuilding year but we just talked in the locker room (after the game) about how no one really thought we would be here. We’re just trying to take away how much we improved.”

While Jasper will certainly miss the contributions of their three graduating seniors, they’re looking forward to returning an abundance of starters and girls who have two or even three years of varsity experience.

The exiting seniors hope the future upperclassmen can lead by example and help take Jasper to new heights.

“The younger (girls) came through and we had a lot of younger leaders on the floor this year,” Wildman said. “It really helped us a lot as a team.”

Hedinger added: “You just have to come in and give your all and just keep going hard — it’s only for four years but it goes by fast.”




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