Undefeated no more, Jasper sweeps away Alices

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com 

JASPER — The Jasper volleyball team has recovered quite nicely since coming out with an 0-2 start at the top of the season. Since then, the Wildcats have bounced back to win nine of their last 10 matches, and have increased their current winning streak to five in a row after sweeping the previously undefeated Vincennes Lincoln Alices 3-0 (25-20, 25-21, 25-19) on Tuesday night.

Kaiser

Wildcats coach Jennifer Hohl certainly believed they had the talent to be a formidable force, but they were held back by a lack of focus that kept them from pushing through tough spots in close sets.

So how did Hohl remedy this weakness?

Part of the plan involved breaking out the yoga mats to find the players' metaphorical centers.

“We do yoga every week with the girls,” Hohl said. “That’s a lot of [focus] on the mind, body and spirit, really taking that breath and being in the moment.”

But the Wildcats coaching staff has also invested a lot of time in building up the players so they can endure the mental and emotional rigors a match can place on them. They constantly cover strategies that involve pressing through the difficult stretches, and even pull from a shared favorite book, "The Coffee Bean," to help inspire the girls.

“It’s about not transforming to your environment, but you transform the environment that you’re in,” Hohl said. “A lot of times young athletes can shut down when things are going bad. But we try to teach our girls different strategies of how to get out of situations like that. We do little things that try to get them to think outside of the box whenever it does get tough.”

Those strategies worked wonders when the Alices tried to rally late in all three sets Tuesday night. Jasper led 24-17 late in the first set, but a trio of errors scored three points for the Alices.

Frustration would have overtaken the Wildcats in the past, but this time they settled down and sophomore middle hitter Izzy Hopf struck the final kill to close out the first set.

The second set featured another furious comeback bid by the Alices.

Down 22-17, the outside hitting duo of senior Darrian Carmean and sophomore Livie Koening scored back-to-back kills that energized Lincoln’s bench. Koenig then scored an ace following a Jasper error, which pulled them to within one point of the Wildcats.

But Jasper responded to the pressure with a kill from senior setter Kate Green, before capitalizing on an Alices error with an ace from senior outside hitter Reagan Egbert that finished the set.

Lincoln tried one last push late in the third set after a kill from senior middle hitter Riley Merder put Jasper up 23-16. After a Wildcat error, junior middle blocker Maycee Lange put one over for the Alices, and junior libero Kali Haynes added an ace to get within four points of Jasper.

But, once again, Hopf came up with a clutch kill to stifle the Alice offensive, and Mair capped the match with a final block that sealed the sweep for the Wildcats.

Hopf and sophomore outside hitter Caroline Kaiser each had eight kills, Egbert had seven to go along with seven aces, and Mair finished with six.

Junior libero Kayla Fuhs had 25 digs, while Egbert and sophomore defensive specialists Aspen Sermersheim and Jayden Pfister finished with 11. Green had 32 assists.

“Before the game we talked a lot about it’s our mentality that’s going to get us through these games,” said Merder, who finished with four kills. “We all played a mentally tough game tonight, which is something we have improved on tremendously. The mental aspect of things brought us together to pull out a win against the Alices.”

“We’ve really picked up our energy and come together as a team,” Mair added. “We were working really well together, and picking up our communication really helped, too.”

Jasper’s (9-3, 4-0) win over Lincoln (12-1, 0-1) is the team’s fourth win over an opponent that was previously undefeated. Hohl likes the way the girls have been firing on all cylinders lately, but she wants to see them execute more consistently as they approach the middle of their season.

“We keep going back and forth with teams,” Hohl said. “It’s great when we win, but we need to be a team that can execute 4 to 6 points in a row against somebody. That’s something that will take us to the next level, and I think we have a great group of girls that can do that."

Jasper’s next match will be against the Gibson Southern Titans (2-7, 1-1) at home on Thursday.




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