This time, Cats’ surge snipped short

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Andrea Weidenbenner, clockwise from far left, Abby Pierce, Abby Rogers, Lydia Scherle, Mariah Moeller, Tori Sermersheim and Jaclyn Schmitt reflected on the season after falling to No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard in the semistate final for the second straight year Saturday night at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium. The Wildcats reached the championship by sweeping Edgewood, giving them their first 30-win season since 2006. For a gallery of photos, click here.
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — To everyone inside Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, the situation was wonderfully familiar. Perhaps even welcomed.

The players sensed it. The coaches felt it. Even Jasper volleyball’s fans, who had seen the miraculous just four days prior, believed they were primed to marvel at a comeback once again.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, reality didn’t allow the frenzied feel to remain long enough.

After falling quickly in the opening set, creating a charge in the second despite descending into a two-game deficit and willing their way to a third-set triumph, the Wildcats came up short of mounting their third five-set comeback in the last four matches, falling to No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard 25-12, 25-21, 20-25, 25-18 in Saturday’s Class 3A semistate championship.

After sloppily surging past Edgewood 25-21, 25-23, 25-23 in its afternoon semifinal, Jasper’s gradual ascent following its sluggish start helped cultivate that ever-so-palpable notion of belief that had become its postseason trademark, Wildcat coach Deborah Giesler said.

“We started out rough, which I guess has kind of been our tendency in this tournament. But I never doubted that we would have the fight in us to come back,” Giesler said. “I think everybody in this gym after we won that third set thought, ‘You know what, they’re going to do it again.’ And I think that’s just a testament to how hard these girls have worked all year. And how much faith the coaches and they have in each other, and that the fans have in them. If a few things would have gone differently, and we would have pushed it to five sets, who knows what the outcome would have been.”

The match’s initial frame provided little promise for the Wildcats (30-9), as the Trojans blitzed Jasper with a 10-0 run to seize a 17-4 advantage. For Chatard (31-7), which relied on lightning-quick offense funneled through steady setter Ellen Schroeder and a bevy of able hitters, operating with an augmented velocity was key, Trojan coach Nick Wolf said.

“Speed (was the focal point),” Wolf said. “They have a very good and athletic team and we thought the only way we’re going to hang with them and be able to get past them was speed.”
Katie Krempp tracked down a dig in Jasper’s 25-12, 25-21, 20-25, 25-18 defeat in the championship.

Change came within the second and third sets, as Jasper’s front line fastened its guard, altering Chatard’s previously unimpeded spikes. Shelby Merder’s five blocks and three by Rachel Sternberg helped hinder Trojan swings, but even without the blocks, getting touches on hits “was all the difference in the outcome, and how close we made it,” Giesler said.

“Our girls made the right adjustments on defense,” she added.

Jasper built a 16-12 lead in the second set off a 9-3 spurt, accented by two spikes from Annie Huebner (nine kills) and two Merder blocks. But the Trojans promptly responded with a 10-2 run, and secured the two-set advantage following an exchange of points.

The third set ­— particularly a marathon point-ending hammer dropped by Abby Rogers (seven kills) to claim Jasper’s 14th point — exemplified the unrelenting mantra that came to define the Wildcats’ postseason run. After both sides seesawed to square things at 16-all, Jasper ripped off five straight points and eventually closed the set on Tori Sermersheim’s slide kill and another spike down the line by Elisabeth Ahlbrand (six kills), both set by Lydia Scherle (15 assists).

“We just never give up. And we had nothing to lose because, obviously, we were the underdogs in the situation,” said Sermersheim, who drilled seven kills in the match. “We were like, ‘Guys, just give it everything you’ve got. We can’t really mess up. We’ve just got to fight.’”

Cabby had come alive.

However, Chatard snatched the first five points of the fourth set. And though the Wildcats clawed back to make it 18-13 after consecutive Trojan spikes sailed out of bounds, the hosts weren’t able to pull any closer. For the second year in a row, Jasper’s run ended one match short of punching a ticket to the state finals, both times at the Trojans’ hands.

Considering the improbable challenges her team overcame to arrive at the semistate championship, Wildcat senior libero Jaclyn Schmitt had no trouble keeping things in perspective.

“I couldn’t be happier (with the team’s performance),” said Schmitt, who racked up 22 digs in the final. “My team, they meant the world to me. This sport just means so much to me. And it’s so hard to lose, but my teammates have made it so fun. I’m going to miss them to death. I never thought we would have been able to play again in this game tonight. And I think we did a good job. We didn’t come out the way that we wanted, but we’re OK. We’ll be OK.”

Simply playing into October’s twilight and contending against a high-caliber opponent is reason to keep heads held high, Sermersheim said.

“Making it to semistate is just huge,” she said. “And even winning a game against Bishop Chatard, they’re a really good team, and that was really exciting after losing two (sets) and coming back and winning that one. That was really exciting. Nothing to be ashamed of after tonight.”

Though the season reached its end, the legacy left by the squad’s seven seniors is something far more permanent.

“I told the girls in the locker room, we are going to miss those seniors. ... They never quit. And the postseason has been a great example of that. Just never quitting, always fighting, having confidence in each other,” Giesler said. “They never get to the point where you just think they’re not going to push to fight through this. They always fight through it. And that’s because the seniors are out there and they’re leading, they’re pushing, they’re not taking anything less than the best they expect from each other. And that’s what’s most important.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at

More on