Unwavering Jeeps bump Braves from perchOctober 22, 2012
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
LYNNVILLE — Tecumseh seemed to be testing Stephanie Schepers’ thesis with the precision of a script.
Before her team played a match this season, the Northeast Dubois volleyball coach sensed she had a group with a little something special. Call it an X-factor that Schepers hadn’t seen before in her three prior seasons coaching in the program. Her forecast was the Jeeps would operate with a drive from within and possess the ability to rescue themselves from bad situations more easily.
In Saturday’s Class 1A sectional championship at Lynnville, the newfound traits were mandatory for survival. And they allowed the Jeeps to extinguish one of the longest active sectional streaks in the state.
For four sets, any momentum Northeast Dubois gained, Tecumseh repossessed. But the Jeeps endured, all the way until the Braves ran out of time to respond. Northeast Dubois rode the ebb and flow of a 25-10, 10-25, 25-20, 18-25, 15-8 victory to grab the program’s sixth sectional title, and in their first year competing in Sectional 64, the Jeeps dethroned the team that had made the sectional its personal playground for the last decade.
“Every time they came in the huddle, they did more talking than I did,” Schepers said of her players. “They said, ‘We’ve got to do it, we can do it.’ And that’s the difference of them from any other team. Any other team would have said, ‘OK, we’re done.’ These girls just don’t accept that. They push ahead and the drive until they get it.”
The Jeeps had to earn it against Tecumseh, which had waltzed to 10 consecutive sectional titles — it was the fourth-longest current streak in the state. This season’s move out of Sectional 61 spared the Jeeps from familiar roadblocks Springs Valley and Trinity Lutheran. But the Braves, with 5-foot-10 middle hitter Brenna Floyd (16 kills) and a roster full of dangerous jump-servers, weren’t exactly a reprieve from top-flight competition.
“We came out knowing that we wanted this one, I think more than most, because we had a really good chance,” Jeep senior Michaela Stemle said. “We just kept pushing through that and knew we could do it and knew we just wanted it.”
Stemle finished with 11 digs as Emily Lueken (22), Taylor Hopf (18), Jenna Stemle (16) and Talia Terwiske (10) also furnished the Jeeps with the defensive punch to prevent Tecumseh from consolidating the momentum from wins in sets 2 and 4. Schepers didn’t discount the difference defense made, but she said the Jeeps (23-9) were at their best when they were swinging away. They married all their best qualities in the fifth set, when Tecumseh led 3-2 before the Jeeps clicked off eight of the next nine points.
“It was so great. Everybody was playing their spot and playing their game, and just getting every ball and hitting the ball,” said Jeep senior Nicole Dodd, who accounted for the first four Jeep points of the final set with two of her 18 kills, one of her six blocks and an ace. “We got down a couple points, but then we pushed right back.”
Everyone assumed a role when Northeast Dubois crafted its fifth-set move.
Kendra Jacob terminated a long point by pummeling a kill. Haley Brinkman slipped a hit through two blockers. Jacob and Brinkman teamed for a block to end a point kept alive when Hopf sprawled headfirst for a save beyond the back line.
“I started sweating, not because I was nervous, but because I was jumping just as much as they were,” Schepers said of the go-ahead stretch in the fifth set. “They’ve got the drive. I never doubted it.”
Tecumseh pulled within 11-8, but the Braves fired a serve long and Lueken flicked a shot that wasn’t returned before Dodd pasted two final kills. On match point, Dodd got the sort of setup that created a buzz from the Jeep crowd that was ready to roar. Perfect, soft set by Terwiske at the middle of the net with just one blocker to beat.
“It was awesome. I wanted that ball so bad,” said Dodd, who removed a smidge of pace and ripped it off the blocker’s hands. “I knew I had to play smart with it.”
With the gleeful celebration in progress a few feet away, Schepers retreated to the team’s bench. She placed her hands over her faced and cried.
Schepers played on a Northeast Dubois team that won a sectional in 2003 as the Jeeps won three more sectionals in a row after that. But she acknowledged the current Jeeps “barely know what a sectional win feels like in volleyball.” Michaela and Jenna Stemle have an idea as their older sister Lauren played for those teams, and as a senior, Michaela made the sectional reclamation a priority as “we’ve got to get it back before I get out of here,” she said. “That was the motivation.”
Brinkman, who posted five kills in the title match and nine in a 25-13, 25-20, 25-17 sweep of Wood Memorial in the semifinals earlier in the day, admitted she doesn’t even remember the Jeeps’ mid-2000s era that included back-to-back state finals appearances in 2005 and ’06. Illustrating Schepers’ point, that’s what made Saturday extra special.
“She said that we haven’t won it since 2006 and we need to bring it back and play our hearts out. We did,” Brinkman said.
It earned Northeast Dubois a regional matchup at 7 p.m. Tuesday on its home floor against No. 4 Loogootee (31-4), which upset top-ranked Barr-Reeve in four sets in the Sectional 63 final. The Jeeps arrive back home with a trophy in tow, and while it’s not the first sectional triumph for a group that includes several basketball players who’ve cycled through the routine of success, restoring prosperity to the volleyball program placed a new spin on a familiar feeling.
“We knew it’s been a while,” Dodd said. “It’s definitely different, basketball versus volleyball, but it’s still just as cool, and it’s really awesome that we finally won a sectional again.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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