Regional taste has Jeep sights set on return

Photos by Olivia Corya/The Herald
Northeast Dubois volleyball coach Stephanie Schepers, left, comforted seniors Taylor Hopf, Nicole Dodd and Michaela Stemle after Tuesday’s loss to fourth-ranked Loogootee in the Class 1A regional at Dubois. The Jeeps led the Lions until late in the first set before Loogootee pulled away to a 25-23, 25-14, 25-5 win. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

DUBOIS — Taylor Hopf didn’t leave empty-handed.

One of three Northeast Dubois seniors who closed their careers in Tuesday’s Class 1A volleyball regional at Dubois, Hopf clutched a gift bag of goodies and a bouquet of flowers given by her parents, and her little niece, Avery, buddied up to Hopf as she chatted through a postmatch interview. Minutes earlier, tears filled Hopf’s eyes on the last point of a final set in which a Jeep rally simply wasn’t feasible. With Hopf sensing the end, teammate Talia Terwiske stepped over to deliver a quick pat of support before fourth-ranked Loogootee applied the final stamp on its 25-23, 25-14, 25-5 regional victory.

Terwiske

Even after her team’s initial momentum dissipated, Hopf took even further inventory of her surroundings and determined she was satisfied. She’d never seen so many people at a home volleyball match. And the fact the Jeeps enjoyed one last hurrah at home in their first regional visit in six years provided salvation to the night.

“I’m going to look back and I’m going to love the way it ended. I love my team, and we finished it off good,” said Hopf, who finished with 14 digs.

“We came out before the game, and our big word was ‘believe.’ We know they beat us before in the season, and we really wanted to come out, believe in ourselves and win, and we started that from the very get-go the first game. I wish it would have took (the opening set), but we played hard, and I was so proud of us.”

One of the questions that did linger for Hopf and the Jeeps (23-10) was how the night might have been different had a few points transpired differently in the first set.

The Jeeps bounded to a 4-0 lead to start the match, and they earned each one on their terms: Nicole Dodd rejected Christina Ziegler, Emily Lueken pounded a winner, then Dodd whacked a kill and punched down another ball.

Katelyn Helming, left, and Nicole Dodd rose to defend a kill attempt from Loogootee’s Christina Ziegler. Helming and Dodd both finished with a pair of blocks, and Dodd registered a team-high 12 kills.


Northeast Dubois maintained the advantage midway into the set, and the Jeeps figured there might be something to the rumors they’d heard. Schepers said the team heard insider information at school — declining to reveal the source — that the Lions (32-4) were a bit unsettled about intersecting with an opponent other than usual regional foe Tecumseh, which the Jeeps eliminated in the sectional. Another layer to the story was that the Jeeps took a set off the Lions a few weeks earlier in the Heritage Hills Tournament. And that galvanized the Jeeps with that buzzword Hopf mentioned: believe.

“There’s always that little bit of fire that we had in us that we knew we could win,” Hopf said.

But from 16-12 down, Loogootee commanded a 22-17 lead. Northeast Dubois closed to 24-23 on Dodd’s block and kill, but on set point, Loogootee cranked a hit that pinballed off Jeep hands the maximum three times before they could send it across.

From there, just like in their 15-25, 25-16, 25-11 comeback over the Jeeps a few weeks earlier, the Lions accelerated into cruising speed.

“We kind of had the same thing happen in a tournament a few weeks back, and I told the girls they were going to come back firing at us and that we need to be ready to play,” Loogootee coach Lacey Wade said. “As soon as we finally found our groove, we were good to go.”

Loogootee middle hitter Michala Beasley boomed 18 kills, but it was the Lions’ initial strikes that flummoxed the Jeeps the most. In the second and third sets, Loogootee served 14 aces.

Lueken

Jeep coach Stephanie Schepers struggled to explain how her squad’s normally reliable serve-receive wilted. And she acknowledged that once Loogootee began stacking up points in bulk, “that got in our heads a little bit.”

“I don’t know if it was just the momentum of the occasion, but for some reason, we just couldn’t pull ourselves back up tonight,” Schepers said.

That left Schepers delivering an emotional sendoff to the three players that normally kept the Jeeps propped up.

Seniors Michaela Stemle, Hopf and Dodd circled at the center of the floor, and Schepers joined them in a tearful hug. Dodd totaled 12 kills, three blocks and two aces in her final match, and Schepers got choked up again later when outlining the significance of her middle hitter and two defenders.

“I couldn’t have asked for better leaders,” Schepers said. “It’s not like you’ve got a whole crew where they play small roles. These girls have filled huge roles this year. So that leaves a lot of open spots next year. It’s going to be hard. (The seniors) had that drive, and that drive fed to everyone else. Hopefully, these underclassmen can bring it back.”

There’s promise there, as Lueken (17 digs), Terwiske (10 assists), Haley Brinkman, Katelyn Helming, Jenna Stemle and big-swinging Kendra Jacob will all return. Schepers’ expectation is the returning Jeeps — and the prospective ones — won’t forget how much fun Tuesday’s atmosphere was.

Hopf joked that the Jeeps feared they’d be claustrophobic with both sides of bleachers pulled out for the first time all season. At school in the days prior, she convinced some of her male friends who’d never watched volleyball before to show up and support. It’s a start of what Schepers wants to make an annual staple.

“I feel like this team and this sectional and the way we played regional here, it’s going to bring the sport of volleyball kind of back into a routine here,” Schepers said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, is to get it popular again to where people have that drive and they have that want to win and want to play.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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