On verge of extending surge, Cats fall

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper senior Tori Sermersheim hugged her mother, Tammy, after the Jasper volleyball team fell in straight sets in Saturday’s semistate semifinals at Edgewood. The Wildcats led 24-20 in the third set but Brownstown Central rallied to finish a 25-18, 25-9, 26-24 sweep. Sermersheim finished with 15 kills and 21 digs in her final high school match. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

ELLETTSVILLE — That look was present for just a moment.

The Jasper volleyball team, down two sets after a lopsided 25-9 loss in the second set in Saturday’s Class 3A semistate semifinals against Brownstown Central, looked stunned. The faces were dull, downcast. For just a moment, that enthusiasm and fire instilled by coach Liz Milligan and displayed after every kill and every block had disappeared and been replaced by hopelessness.

But it didn’t last long, and if there was one thing Milligan could impart on her team in the final set, it was that the Wildcats weren’t leaving Ellettsville without some sort of fight.

“We’re going to go down swinging,” an amped-up Milligan yelled after a monster kill by Tori Sermersheim gave the Wildcats a 5-3 lead in the third.

It’s been the mantra for the Wildcats all season. An aggressive and emotional style of play that carried them to sectional and regional championships and a third straight semistate berth just a year after losing a talented senior class. The expectations could have been pushed aside for the Cats in 2013, but, like that third set, Jasper ensured its fans that Wildcat volleyball wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

“So much improvement,” Milligan said about her team that started the season with an unflattering 6-11 record. “I can’t tell you how much each and every one of these players has grown as a player both mentally and physically. I’m just so happy that they had this opportunity to come up here and show the people up here that Jasper volleyball is here and we’re not going anywhere.”

The Wildcats ended the season with a 25-18, 25-9, 26-24 loss against a Brownstown Central squad that got up early and refused to yield to the Wildcats. Jasper showed signs of life in the third set, but the strong showing wasn’t enough to dethrone a Braves team that beat Jasper twice during the regular season, both times in two-set sweeps.

“I thought I had them so prepared that they did have the confidence to win this game and I think that they did; it’s just that we got down and couldn’t recover those first two games,” Milligan said. “But I can’t say enough about how hard they worked that third game.”

The first two sets for the Wildcats were marked by unforced errors and a suddenly placid frontline. Sermersheim and the rest of the Cats’ powerful hitters struggled to put balls down in play and, even when they were able to connect, Brownstown libero Trinity Booher fielded everything in sight. The Wildcats kept the pressure on the Braves through the first set, but fell to a 13-6 deficit in the second and couldn’t muster much momentum.

“Our hitting was not working really well,” Milligan said. “If you can run offense out of your defense, then that’s awesome, but we weren’t doing a lot of that in the first two games. ... All we were doing was playing defense and we weren’t running an offense and they’re a good team, so you have to be prepared.”

But when the third set rolled around, the same Jasper team that Milligan said had been “running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off” used crisp passes and a restored vigor to jump to an early 13-9 lead.

Jasper’s Emma Stout soared for a spike attempt against two Brownstown Central blockers

“It all started with the passing and then our setting so we (struggled) putting the three together,” said Sermersheim, who led the team with 15 kills and 21 digs. “And since we struggled with our serve-return, our hitting wasn’t going in and we just didn’t click in the second game.

“(Milligan told us before the third set) to go at the ball aggressive. Just to go around the block and score off points because tips all the time aren’t going to score points. ... Sometimes I just resort to tipping, but I need to know that swinging aggressive is more apt to scoring.”

Sermersheim and Elisabeth Ahlbrand finally found open spots on the floor with the help of Teyah Leinenbach, who finished with 30 assists. With the Braves forced to play more defense, their offense struggled to create the big hits that had carried them all match and Michala Flamion (17 digs) was able to clean the passing that had hindered the Cats.

One point away from a third-set victory, the Wildcats lost the serve after a tricky kill from Braves’ setter Nicole Thomas, who quickly spiked the ball as she appeared to be preparing for a set. The Braves then rattled off five straight points behind three aces and won 26-24 when Leinenbach couldn’t grab a final tip by Regan Harrison. It was the Braves’ first lead of the third set.

The loss ended a sometimes seesaw season that turned after a 3-0 loss to Evansville Mater Dei in late September. After the Sept. 24 loss, Jasper finished 14-6, including the program’s 35th sectional title and 19th regional crown, also earning Jasper’s third-straight 20-plus-win season. Jasper moves on without seniors Sermersheim, Abby Pierce, Mariah Moeller, Katie Krempp and Rachel Bounds, but a young, talented batch of girls return to boost a Wildcat team that did nothing but exceed expectations this season.

“Especially at the beginning of the season, I think a lot of people doubted us,” Sermersheim said. “No one even thought we’d make it past sectional, but we’ve come so far and just competing with more difficult and experienced teams in tournaments helped us a lot. And if we could play those guys we can with anyone. We’ve made it so far. ... No one besides the fans stayed with us and our team believed in ourselves. ... And we proved to them in sectional and regional we could definitely do it and make it here.”

Contact Joseph Fanelliat jfanelli@dcherald.com

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