Season of growth concludes for PatsOctober 23, 2017
BY JONATHAN SAXON
CORYDON — Things did not go as planned for coach Kayla White and her Heritage Hills volleyball team Saturday.
It looked like the Patriots were on the right path after an early sweep of Sullivan in the regional semis to start their day. But even that match offered an early setback for Heritage Hills, which dropped its first set 25-20 before rallying to win the final three sets 25-22, 25-8, 25-13.
But the Patriots could not carry over any magic to the championship match, as Heritage Hills lost in the Class 3A Corydon Central Regional final to Silver Creek 25-21, 25-12, 25-17.
The Patriots (31-5) could not overcome fast starts in each set by the Dragons (34-4) and fell short of their first semistate appearance since 2003.
“They were a talented volleyball team (with) a good coach,” White said. “Once they get momentum, there’s not much you can do to stop them. They did what they had to today. They picked it up and ran with it.”
Silver Creek powered its aggressive offense with fluid switches and powerful hits when the ball crossed to its side of the net. The Dragons attacked the net like their lives depended on it and sent kills whizzing to the floor before Heritage Hills could make the crowd-pleasing digs that came often against Sullivan.
White said Heritage Hills tried to replicate the intensity that comes with a regional final during its practices, but White admitted the forcefulness of Silver Creek caught the Pats off-guard.
“That was an eye-opener,” she said. “We haven’t seen that hard (and) that talented in a long time. Not since New Albany early on in the season. It’s something we had to try and adjust around, and they came out on top.”
Still, the Patriots, who won a sectional this season for the first time since 2010, would not go down without a fight. Every time Silver Creek managed to go on a scoring streak, White would call a timeout, settle her girls and advise certain adjustments to counter the Dragons.
“We switched defense depending on what hitter was up; we flipped through the rotation trying to get our big blocker versus their big hitter,” she said. “We tried to put their best player against our best player just to see if we could match up to them.”
White reiterated that the plan coming in was to neutralize Silver Creek junior Kiersten Cooper, who led the Dragons with 375 kills in the regular season. White said she believed halting Cooper would force her teammates to step up, putting Heritage Hills in an advantageous position due to its depth.
But the best-laid plans did not pay dividends this time.
“We tried to talk about how it wasn’t (Cooper) every single time; we had to focus on other hitters, and when she did hit the ball we had to get it,” she said. “Her hits were hard and deeper than we could get under. I think we only stopped her once or twice, and that’s what didn’t work for us. We needed to stop her when she had it. When she got it, she just rocked it.”
White said the layoff between matches Saturday may have affected her team in a negative way. In the 41⁄2 hours between facing Sullivan and Silver Creek, White said the Patriots found it difficult to keep the intensity of their first match and carry it over to the evening.
“These long days make it challenging, and you have to be mentally tough,” she said. “Of course, they did the same thing and bounced back better than we did, so it’s hard.”
But White did not use the layoff factor as a crutch for the Patriots. White recognized something else as the difference: The Dragons brought their A-game when it mattered the most.
“We knew Silver Creek was this team. We knew that they were going to bring their top game,” she said. “We’ve seen them against Jasper and against Providence, two very good teams. So they definitely brought it when they had to.”
Even though Heritage Hills did not get the result it hoped for, White said she did not see her team’s defeat as the mark of a failed season. And White thinks she could use the Pats’ journey as motivation for her up-and-coming players. She will be losing eight seniors, but said the goal for next season will not change.
“We’re going to keep stressing wanting this feeling again, of (reaching) our regional and getting to this level of play,” she said. ”We want to do one better than this year. I don’t care who’s on our court, this is our goal every year. I have some girls coming up that, if we work hard this summer, can do some damage. We’re going to go hard and do the best we can.”
But to close this season, an emotional White just had one message for her girls, who still have a Pocket Athletic Conference championship and sectional title to look back on.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of girls,” she said with tears in her eyes. “They did everything I asked them to, and they grew leaps and bounds this year.”
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