Remade Cats thump Tigers in reversal of sweep

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — When the annual How I Spent My Summer Vacation session unfolded Thursday, the Jasper volleyball team returned with plenty to brag about.

Rachel Sternberg went out and got herself a snappy new uniform to accompany a new position. Michala Flamion returned with a new identity, too. Reagan Hochmeister acquired a more assertive attitude plus a new toy — a frisky jump serve, which she was happy to share with Princeton.

Sternberg
Flamion


Judging by their season opener, the Wildcats looked like they couldn’t wait for class to be back in session so they could do a little showing off. With more depth, experience and options galore offensively and defensively, Jasper crunched Princeton 25-13, 25-14, 25-16. The Cats upstaged the bully in the process, too, trumping a Tiger squad that dealt them a straight-sets defeat last season.

“It’s totally night and day, I’m telling you,” Jasper coach Liz Milligan said of the first-match effort from last season to this year. “I’m just really proud of them, because they’ve worked so hard this past year, just conditioning and getting bigger and faster and stronger. I think their hard work is going to pay off. I don’t want them to think this is as far as it’s going to go, because they could go so much farther. I don’t want them to get satisfied with this.”

Milligan assured her girls have “a lot to work on.” In the same breath, she acknowledged that finding complaints from Thursday’s match would require nit-picking.

For starters, Jasper (1-0) confidently answered the question of what life after Tori Sermersheim will be like. That’s where Flamion steps in. Sermersheim graduated after leading the Cats in kills nearly every match last season, and “with everybody switching positions we really didn’t know how it was going to go,” admitted Flamion, who’s undergoing a back-to-front switch.

The junior was the team’s libero last season but has shifted to an outside hitter role — a comfortable swap, since it’s the position she plays for her club volleyball team. Now, she’s yet another prong in a hitting attack that has recouped with diversity. Elisabeth Ahlbrand, who’s also serving this season as her once-creaky shoulder has improved, smacked eight kills. Hochmeister ripped eight more. Flamion supplied seven kills, Emma Stout added nearly that many, and the Cats operated with fluidity that doesn’t always surface in a season opener. Through the opening set and eight points into the second set, Jasper totaled just one hitting error.

“The first game’s always nerve-racking and you usually mess up a lot and you just have to come back from that, and I don’t think we messed up, like, at all,” Flamion said. “We ended up doing great tonight.”

As Flamion ceded her old light-colored libero jersey, Sternberg took the hand-me-down, and it’s been a comfortable fit.

Last winter, Milligan began toying with the idea of moving Flamion to the front row. The Wildcat coach earmarked Sternberg as the new back-row specialist, even though the former setter and right-side hitter had never concentrated on defense full-time. Even so, “I don’t really think that I would want anybody other than her back there leading our defense,” Milligan assured.

“She thought since I was a senior, she thought I could do it,” Sternberg said. “I said of course I’ll do anything to help the team out. She gave me the opportunity, and here I am today.”

Flamion still plays all the way through the rotation, so she remains a defensive paradigm of sorts. Sternberg still marvels at her instincts — evidenced when Flamion executed two head-over-heels diving saves during the same point late in Thursday’s second set.

“I always watch her dive, how she reads the hitters. There will be times where she gets good ups, and I’m like, ‘How did you do that, tell me how you do that, tell me how to read the hitters!” Sternberg said. “She taught me a lot of things. Without her, I don’t think I’d be as prepared as I was.”

While Milligan knew Princeton had a first-year libero and told her servers to challenge the rookie at the beginning of the match, Sternberg posted a team-best 22 digs on the other side of the net. Flamion and Abby Libbert kicked in eight digs apiece as “the MVP of our game tonight was serve-receive, because they were spot-on,” Milligan said of her back-row passers whose accuracy meant that setter Teyah Leinenbach (28 assists) rarely had to scramble.

Leinenbach also produced 13 digs, one coming late in the match on successive all-out, one-armed saves by two Wildcats to keep a point alive. When Jasper eventually won that point, Milligan uncorked a loud “wooo!” that was heard across the gym.

A bit more inspired than last year’s debut against Princeton, was the consensus among the Cats.

“It’s totally different. Last year ... was last year, how ’bout that,” Flamion said. “This year’s a new year, and I’m glad that we came out tonight and actually took revenge on them.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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