Tough-luck Patriots finally uncover big break

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Heritage Hills players Haley Begle, left, Shelby Winner, CJ Nance, Michaella Burger, Jenna Steckler and Shania Mundy jumped off the bench after their teammates won the fifth set of Tuesday’s tussle at Northeast Dubois. Rallying from a 9-7 hole in the fifth set, the Patriots upended the Class 1A No. 8 Jeeps 20-25, 27-25, 25-21,
20-25, 15-13. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

DUBOIS — Heritage Hills needed a break. Just one night for things to finally go right.

Over and over Tuesday night in Dubois, Patriot volleyball coach Annie Gunselman thought she saw it coming. The Patriots would smack an ace or other serves that went unreturned. Then, they’d follow that by doffing their next serve into the net.

The scenario happened at least five times. Once, Gunselman turned around and squeezed the hand railing in the bleacher aisle in irritation. Other times, she’d turn her back from the court and walk to the end of the bench in silent frustration.

“I’m not very good at hiding my displeasure when we miss a serve,” she later joked.

Just when it looked like the Patriots were veering toward another tough-luck loss, something changed. Instead of compounding mistakes with more errors, they regrouped. Instead of watching Class 1A No. 8 Northeast Dubois pilfer the fifth set when the Jeeps led 9-7, the Pats scripted one final retort.

Surging and then surviving in the ultimate set, Heritage Hills scrapped out a 20-25, 27-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-13 takedown of Northeast Dubois. The Patriots didn’t mind the extended stay one bit, since it ended what they’d been thirsting for: that break.



“Very big turning point,” Patriot libero Ashley Mosby said.

“We’ve been waiting on it a long time. It’s kind of been iffy (this season), but this is the greatest match we’ve ever had.”

“(Monday) night I said we need one night to have things to go our way. Fortunately, tonight it did,” Gunselman added. “We played really well. I think finally — finally — after all this time, put an entire match together. Games, we’ve played parts of games, but this I think was a full match, finally.”

Gunselman couldn’t pinpoint just one difference. That’s because they came from all angles.

It began with Mosby, the off-and-on libero whose sharper passing permitted the Patriots (8-15) to run a smoother offense Tuesday, Gunselman said. Mosby chalked up 45 digs, and Gunselman also lauded Miriah Leibering (40 assists) for effectively spreading her sets to the middle and outside — and popping in the occasional surprise by delicately dumping the ball to soft spots in the Jeep defense.

In the second set, Northeast Dubois (15-6) rebuffed a trio of set points to level the score at 25. Patriot junior Madi Fella then spiked home the final two points. Fella was lodged in the back row near the end of the third set, but the Patriots still erased a 20-19 deficit as Michaella Burger (eight kills) flicked a winner to the corner, April Kippenbrock ripped one of her 10 kills and CJ Nance tossed in a block and a tip.


“When we needed a crucial points, a crucial kill, we finally got it, and that hasn’t happened most of the season,” Gunselman said.

And when the Jeeps introduced one last smidge of doubt, the Pats whisked it away.

On the verge and leading 14-10 in the final set, the Pats were whistled for a net violation. Then, the Jeeps’ Haley Brinkman deposited a pair of aces.

“I’m like, ”˜Aw, geez,” said Gunselman, whose team had faltered at the finish of a pair of five-setters in the prior two weeks.

Brinkman had earlier tweaked her ankle in a tumble to the ground, and she had been telling coach Stephanie Schepers that something didn’t feel right with her serve. But with her pair of hard-dipping aces, the comfort returned.

“She pulled through for us, definitely,” Schepers said. “There for a little bit I really thought we could pull it off, but they had their best hitter (Fella) outside, and she’s a tough contender all night.”

Gunselman’s command to Leibering: “Get it to our hammer.”

Fella took her first crack on match point, and Brinkman dug it. Given a second chance later in the point, Fella crunched the last of her 23 kills.

“It felt really good, to finally know it was your win and not someone else’s,” Fella said.

“We have definitely felt it when we lost some games, we got really down on ourselves. Getting that last point really showed us that we can do it, and it was really good for us.”

The Patriots picked up some bonus points for accomplishing what no one else had done in nearly month.

Northeast Dubois went exactly four weeks without a loss, and the Pats snuffed out an 11-match Jeep win streak despite two dozen kills by Kendra Jacob and some astronomical defensive totals. Jacob collected 21 digs, and the totals only increased from there: Chloe Johnson rescued 27 digs, Emily Lueken racked up 37 and the grand prize went to Jenna Stemle with 38.

“Like I told the girls in the locker room, it’s not like we handed it to them,” Schepers said. “We fought and we made them earn probably at least 80 percent of the points. It was just some mistakes and too little too late, and putting the ball down we struggled with. ... It’s going to happen where we’re going to have off nights, and it happened against a good team tonight.”

Schepers credited the Patriots for effectively jumbling Northeast Dubois’ system by dumping serves shallow in the court. And when the Jeeps took a few steps forward to compensate, the Pats handcuffed them with more forceful offerings.

Adjusting and winning. Heritage Hills has been on the chase most of the season, and at last they nabbed the reward.

“You can’t put everything on one match,” Gunselman said. “But it’s a great start, and at this point in the season, to have a match like that is huge for us mentally.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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