Wildcats fall short in epic five-set thriller

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jasper’s Jayden Pfister went down low for a dig during Tuesday’s volleyball match in Jasper. The Wildcats fell just short in an epic five-set thriller, 3-2 (10-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-25, 11-15) to Castle in a match that was reminiscent of their five-set sectional championship battle last season. For more photos from the match, click here.


JASPER — Tuesday night’s volleyball match between Jasper and Castle had just about everything you could want in a rivalry battle — unless you like to go to sleep early.

The Wildcats and Knights battled back and forth in a five-set battle with Castle rallying from a 2-1 set deficit to win the match over Jasper, 3-2 (10-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-25, 11-15) with the clock nearly striking midnight by the time the final kill was recorded.

After falling to Castle in a heartbreaking five-set loss in the sectional championship last season, Jasper (0-2) knew they would be in for another tough battle in their home opener on Tuesday night.

“For those of us who played last year, we know how it felt to lose in that sectional championship game,” said junior Riley Merder who finished with 15 kills, three assisted blocks and one solo block. “That result last year was what gave us motivation going into this game. We wanted to come out and prove ourselves because a lot of people didn’t think we could hang with them but we were right there until the very end.”

After the first set, it looked like the naysayers might have been right after the Cats struggled to get much of anything going early on. The Knights never trailed in the first set and didn’t allow Jasper did get any type of momentum.

But after falling in straight sets to Loogootee on Monday night, Jasper wanted to make sure that the same thing didn’t happen again on back-to-back appearances on the court. Wildcat head coach Liz Milligan decided to start a brand new lineup tonight that saw Rylee Hedinger move to the libero position and Natalie Wigand back to the setter spot — a position she played in for the majority of her junior season.

“We implemented a new lineup tonight so at first they were a little apprehensive,” Milligan said. “We did without even practicing it and it first it seemed like it might have been a mistake but they battled back and I couldn’t be more proud of them, they left it all out there.”

The second set was a battle back-and-forth for nearly the entire set as neither team could gain much of an advantage over one another. Jasper was able to get a five-point 20-15 lead late in the set on a 6-0 run but Castle marched back with a 5-0 run of their own to tie the set at 20-20. Reagan Egbert and Meredith Hilgefort had a few big kills late down the stretch while Hedinger’s digs (team-high 22) and Wigand’s passing (team-best 33 assists) helped to seal the set for the Cats and tie the match at 1-1.

Jasper head coach Liz Milligan talked to her team in between the second and third set of Tuesday’s volleyball match in Jasper. While the Wildcats have a plethora of young players, many of them are in their second or third year of varsity experience as Milligan believes the Cats have a solid nucleus to build around. For more photos from the match, click here.

The third set was controlled most of the way through by the Wildcats as Jasper jumped out to a 9-4 lead early in the set and regained control late after Castle took a 22-21 lead as the Cats answered back with back-to-back kills from Hilgefort and two consecutive kills from Merder to close the set and give Jasper a 2-1 match lead.

Merder and her teammates were quick to show big bursts of emotion and celebration after big kills — especially after responding from a 1-0 deficit to take two consecutive sets away from a Southern Indiana rival.

“We discussed in the circle after the first set and said it’s now or never,” Merder said. “We want to continue to back each other up, support each other and always give it our all. We need to always talk on the court, whether we’re down or up it doesn’t matter, because our communication is a big key factor into having success this season.”

The fourth set was another back-and-forth battle that saw Jasper and Castle trading points off of kills and forcing errors on one another for the first ten or so points but then the Knights slowly started to gain momentum — especially after a few rotation errors by the Cats that were caused by a lineup snafu. The “glitch in the lineup”, as Milligan referred to it,ended up costing the Cats at least four points in the fourth set which caused some of their momentum to tail away as the Knights ended up stretching their lead and won the set by double digits.

By the time the fifth set rolled around, the momentum seemed to be nearly be completely on Castle’s side as they trailed just once (2-1 early) and led by as many as five points en route to a 15-11 final set victory and a 3-2 win overall.

While Jasper is 0-2 to start the young season, the Cats know they’re better than what their record shows and with a plethora of young players on the roster (Jasper has just three seniors) the experience will continue to pay dividends as the season marches on as the Cats prepare for their first Big Eight match of the season on Thursday against Princeton.

“We’re young but we’re not — we brought a good nucleus back, we had our setters and hitters back but our defense is still a little bit inexperienced,” Milligan said. “I think once we get it figured out then we can make a run in the tournament. I hope people are patient because it’s how you finish, not how you start and I like where we’re heading.”

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