Third time not quite a charm for Lady Wildcats

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper's Isabelle Hopf spikes the ball past Castle's Carly Harpenau and Natalie Niehaus during Saturday's volleyball sectional championship in Jasper. Castle defeated Jasper in four sets.


JASPER — They weren’t strangers. In fact, it was the third time the Jasper Lady Wildcats had met the Castle Knights in the Class 4A sectional volleyball finals in as many years.

And Saturday night’s match at Jasper High School ended much the same as in years past, with Castle securing the team’s 26th consecutive sectional title.

But, the title didn’t come without a fight.

“We all know we left everything out there,” said Jasper senior Reagan Egbert. “I guess that’s all I could ask for.”

See a gallery of photos

Jasper, which last won a volleyball sectional in 2016 in Class 3A, defeated Evansville Central and Evansville Harrison, both in three sets, to make it to the sectional finals Saturday night, which Castle took 3-1 by scores of 16-25, 25-17, 25-23 and 25-22.

“I think we came out with lots of energy and intensity,” said Jasper first-year coach Jennifer Hohl. “We had lots of confidence coming in. I don’t think we ever gave up on the ball. We always were giving it our best.”

At the start of the match, Jasper got off to a slow start and was down 6-3 before a run that eventually put them in the lead. They never relinquished the lead, winning the opening set 25-16.

Jasper senior Riley Merder hugs her friend, Paige Knies of Celestine, following Saturday's volleyball sectional championship in Jasper. Castle defeated Jasper in 4 sets.

In the second set, Jasper started with a service error and found itself behind the entire set, eventually becoming the team’s first set loss, 25-17, of the sectional tournament.

Jasper found the lead in the third set fairly quickly, and was still leading when the score reached 20-19. An out-of-bounds hit from Jasper senior Riley Merder tied the set at 20-20, before a kill edged the Knights past the Wildcats, 21-20. Back-and-forth kills again tied the teams at 22 and at 23 before Castle took the lead — and the set — 25-23, with a kill.

Jasper never found the lead in the match’s fourth and final set. After a Jasper timeout at 22-15, the team rallied, but fell short, 25-22.

Despite the loss, Hohl was proud of the Wildcats for taking each set point by point.

“Obviously, [it’s] not the way we wanted it to go or anticipated it to go,” she said. “But like I told the girls, I’m proud of them for how they came out, how they fought the whole entire time.”

Jasper’s Merder, one of five seniors, said she thought the team “came out incredibly well.”

“We definitely had a lot of energy and a lot of intensity coming in, and we knew what we needed to expect,” she said. “I feel like we adjusted well. We needed a little bit more to get over the hill, and couldn’t do it.”

Reflecting on the season, Hohl said the team fought through a lot of adversity and grew as both athletes and as young women.

“We’re in the business — our coaching staff — of developing them as people as well,” Hohl said. “I’m proud of them for buying into what we were doing and just trusting us in the process. Just proud of them for being awesome girls on the court, and then awesome girls off the court as well.”

More on