The brilliant smiles of a Northern Lakes Conference champion too in the end.
The Tigers, playing with passion and purpose, defeated NorthWood 3-0 in a clash of league heavyweights in the Tiger Den.
A total team effort, led by many heroes, lifted Warsaw to the 25-19, 25-19, 25-22 league victory over the Class 3-A No. 10 Panthers in a showdown of previous NLC unbeatens.
Warsaw, which has went 6-1 in the NLC each of the last four years, improves to 6-0 in league play and earns at least a share of the conference championship. Elkhart Memorial, which Warsaw beat 3-2 on Aug. 23 at Memorial to snap the Chargers’ 76-match winning streak in the NLC, had won every league volleyball title the last decade. NorthWood drops to 21-4 overall and 5-1 in league play.
It was a state of extreme euphoria for Warsaw, which improved to 20-4 overall and will get a chance to win the NLC title outright at home next Thursday versus Concord.
“This means everything to me,” said Warsaw senior star outside hitter Jamie Lacheta. “It’s been 10 years since anyone other than Memorial has won the NLC. Our energy never dropped tonight. We were screaming the whole match and it was all smiles all the time out there.
“To win in three games shows we can step up and play at the level we need to play at. I felt like we had control out there the whole match. For me, I just stayed completely calm tonight. That helps me keep a level head.”Setter Chloe Hubner, one of five seniors for the Tigers, had waited a long time for this moment to arrive.
“There’s no words to explain how it feels,” said Huber, who directed the Tiger offense like a masterful maestro. “We’ve waited so long for this. It’s a one of a kind thing. It’s amazing to be a part of it.
“The thing is that tonight we played as a team and stayed together as a team. That really helps. When we don’t talk and communicate, we don’t play as a team. Tonight we did that. It’s all about being a family.”
Warsaw, which won 3-0 at NorthWood last year, set the tone from the start. The Tigers never let the Panthers get any kind of rhythm or momentum in taking control from the get go. Strong serving by Lacheta, who boasts a dynamite jump serve, coupled with the hustle plays of senior Sam Jensen, senior libero Alex Sanchez and junior Emily Poe, along with big net play from sophomore middle Katie Voelz got the hosts going.
“I expected both teams to come out nervous and I saw confidence, not nerves, from my team in game one,” said Warsaw coach Mike Howard. “I think how we won game one, in convincing fashion, set the tone for the match.”
The Tigers never relented in sets two and three. The hosts were tied at 11-11 in the second set before using a key 4-0 run to pull ahead. Warsaw outlasted NorthWood in a long rally to win a key point in the stretch. The Tigers led 3-0 in the final game as Jensen started off strong from the service line. NorthWood rallied back early on and again late to forge a 19-19 tie. Voelz and Lacheta each had a key kill late to make it 22-19 Warsaw. The Panthers got within 23-22 before Voelz had the final two kills, including a gorgeous tip kill for the final point of the 1:08 match.“This is hard to put into words,” Howard said. “It’s been the goal of our program the last five years. We’ve been close the last four at 6-1 in the NLC (second to Memorial). This is why we’ve kept pushing. Now, I’m greedy. This feel great, but I want to win another NLC.
“The thing is that we played hard and with passion and purpose tonight, probably really with it like this for the first time since we beat Marian and Memorial early in the season. We grew Saturday in our own tourney. We played with a purpose defensively and that carried over to Tuesday (in a win over Snider) and tonight.
“We had Jamie and Emily running down balls tonight and Sam Jensen diving and getting aces and kills. She may be our MVP tonight. I’m so proud of her. Sam and Katie are so steady in the middle for us. Katie controls the net with her blocking. She’s as dominant at the net at her size (5-11) as any kid. She’s like Sarah Shilling was for us and that’s the best compliment I can pay Katie.
“Jamie was locked in tonight. She was efficient and that makes all the difference. We talk about being steady and efficient and she was. Our service game was effective. We talk about that being our first line of defense.”
Lacheta, who is being recruited by college programs such as Valparaiso University and Ball State, led Warsaw with 13 kills, five aces, 11 digs and two blocks. Jensen, with proud father Phil (coach of the 5-1 Warsaw football team) looking on from press row upstairs, was outstanding with six kills and a block.
Voelz and Poe turned in stellar outings too for the winners. Voelz had eight kills and two blocks, while Poe had 16 digs and two aces. Sanchez had 13 digs and Hubner had 28 assists to go with an ace and a block.NorthWood, which has five seniors, could never sustain a flow to its offense in losing its first league match.
“Our offense, which is one of our strengths, never got into the swing of things tonight,” said NorthWood coach Hilary Rebber. “Playing defense the whole match like we were is really hard. We did not execute.
“Credit Warsaw. They were ready to play. You could see it in their eyes. They played great defense and moved the ball around. I thought it would be a great match and a fight the whole way through. It didn’t turn out that way tonight.”
Senior Savannah Bley led NorthWood with 10 kills and classmate Hanna Stump had nine. Stump had 16 digs, while junior setter Allie Mattingly 14 and 27 assists. Maddie Schwartz, a senior libero, had 14 digs and Stump, Mattingly and senior Brynne Flickinger each had two aces.
NorthWood won the JV match 25-19, 25-22 to improve to 16-5. The loss was the first of the season for the JV Tigers, who are now 17-1.
Warsaw plays at Huntington North and NorthWood travels to Mishawaka Marian Monday.