Wealth of Cats power postseason runOctober 26, 2012
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
It doesn’t take long before Abby Rogers starts receiving information. After the start of each match, she begins absorbing the critiques and orders she hears from coaches.
Close your block. Occupy the empty court. Move your feet.
She makes the adjustments while simultaneously noting her opponent’s tendencies, mentally circling areas of vulnerability.
Then she gets the call.
“Abby, go in,” Jasper coach Deborah Giesler says.
The senior leaps off the bench, as knowledgeable and prepared as someone who hasn’t yet left the court.
Giesler knew the Jasper volleyball team had the ability to make noise in the state tournament. She was also well aware that in order to have that prospect morph into a reality, the time would come when all players would be obliged to respond with big plays.
In Tuesday’s regional-clinching victory of Mount Vernon, this idea came to fruition to an extent it hadn’t all season, helping the Wildcats secure a place in the Class 3A semistate semifinals against Edgewood at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium. The winner between the Wildcats (29-8) and Mustangs (25-11) — Jasper prevailed in straight sets in last year’s semistate meeting — will go on to face the winner of Saturday’s opening match between No. 3 Indianapolis Chatard (29-7) and Brownstown Central (31-5) in the semistate championship, slated for 7 p.m. The Trojans ended Jasper’s season 3-1 in last year’s championship.
When many of her more consistent players seemed to struggle on Tuesday, Giesler remarked others picking up the slack.
The Wildcat coach saw it in the aggressiveness of sophomore Elisabeth Ahlbrand attacking the net. She saw it in the ability of fellow sophomore Rachel Sternberg to occupy a role in the front line, an area of unfamiliarity for much of the year. She saw it in the back line play of junior Mariah Moeller. She saw it in Rogers.
“It can’t always be the same people stepping up. It can’t always be those (players) that have led all season. It’s not always going to be them,” Giesler said. “They’re going to have nights where they’re timid, they’re flustered, things are going right for them. And that’s what a team does. Someone else steps up on a team and (carries) that burden for each other. And that’s what they did.”
In reality, the success of these role player did not magically materialize. Far from it. All season, the Wildcats coaching staff tweaked roles, trying to grasp where the puzzle pieces fit. And when the components were set in place, they united quite nicely.
Sternberg began the year as the junior varsity setter. She gained more varsity experience, and when Giesler noticed the need to augment the front line with a bit more quickness, ideally with a second setter to sustain the offensive flow, Sternberg stepped in. She plugged a career-high five blocks — to go along with 26 assists — against Mount Vernon in a role she had really only seen in practice.
Qualified as “aggressive, aggressive, aggressive at net” by her coach, Ahlbrand was also thrust into crucial moments in the regional bout. Though she didn’t even see court time in some matches during the regular season, she laced eight kills, most notably the set-winning point in the match-tying fourth set.
Ahlbrand’s performance was strikingly similar to that of Tori Sermersheim during last year’s tournament: A young player whose playing time had fluctuated thrown into the heat — and thriving.
“I don’t know if it’s like, ‘What do I have to lose, I’m a sophomore’ or if it’s ‘I don’t know any different. I hit hard in JV so I’m going to hit hard here.’ Whatever it is, it’s a great boost for the rest of the team when you have a kid come in off the bench and slam the ball down on the other side,” Giesler said. “It is such an encouraging feeling for your team. For the girls that have been in there and have maybe been struggling a little bit to see, ‘You know what, this can be done. This girl just came in off the bench and did this.’”
And the same goes for passers, she said. Moeller being the case in point.
After mishandling a sizzling serve in Tuesday’s fourth set, Moeller readied herself to receive the subsequent serve. Perfect bump. Set. Kill. A testament to handling the pressure of such a tense point, and an awareness to her duty.
“When they put me in, I just knew I had to do my job. I had to get it done,” Moeller said. “I had to do what my team needed me to do.”
Accordingly, Rogers’ down-the-line slam to extend Jasper’s third-set lead to 8-4, as well as a block spike that convinced Mount Vernon coach Andrea Allford to call a timeout part way through the fourth, typified the total-team mantra.
“A lot of the time, it’s hard for one person to step up. One person does bad and they just get down on themselves,” Rogers said. “It makes it easier when one person scores because everyone starts believing like, ‘All right, we can do this.’”
The biggest thing Gielser notices is the parity at any given practice. Though lineups inevitably change throughout each season, the quality of competition provided to the Cats’ starters cannot be overemphasized, Giesler said. It’s what allows the starters to progress and the reserves to gain experience against match-caliber competition.
Ultimately, the Wildcats’ success has come less by way of awesome individual talent than each player grasping, and more importantly embracing, her role.
“They don’t really care how it happens, whether they’re the ones a part of it or not,” Giesler said. “It’s really a testament to the girls and the faith they have in each other that they can be that supportive and be like, ‘You know what, I may not be the one in there, but my team’s doing what I know they’re capable of. And when I go in, I’m going to do my job, whenever that’s needed.’”
Contact Joe Jasinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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