The talented and oh-so-close in the past Tigers are bridesmaids no more after completing a perfect and impressive run in league play Thursday night.
Warsaw made history on a very special evening by defeated Concord 3-0 to claim the NLC title outright.
It was only fitting that the senior class led the way for the Tigers in posting the 25-19, 25-22, 25-22 win. The outstanding group, which includes Jamie Lacheta, Chloe Hubner, Alex Sanchez, Sam Jensen and Rebecca Ailes, had went 6-1 in league play, only losing to Memorial, each of the past three seasons.
Star Lacheta ripped a dozen kills to power the offensive attack Thursday night. Fiesty libero Sanchez led the Tigers with 20 digs, while setter Hubner had 32 assists. Steady and underrated middle Jensen led the winners with four blocks.
The Tigers, who improve to 22-4 overall and finish 7-0 in league play, become the first team in more than a decade other than perennial state power Elkhart Memorial to win the NLC volleyball crown.
The Crimson Chargers, who Warsaw beat 3-2 in the NLC opener at Memorial Aug. 23, had won 76 straight NLC matches until that night. Memorial lost its first-ever league match to Warsaw when it joined the NLC in 2001 and then put together 10 straight undefeated seasons from 2002-2011. In that stretch, coach Jacquie Rost’s program made four trips to the Class 4-A State Finals, including finishing as state runner-up in both 2007 and 2009.“This means so much to me,” said Jensen. “To be that team my senior year that wins the NLC and makes history for Warsaw volleyball is a sense of pride. There is just a different team dynamic this year. We seized our opportunities and it feels great.”
Warsaw had its share of up-and-down play Thursday as it hosted a Dig Pink Night to raise funds and awareness to fight breast cancer. The hosts did not click on all cylinders, but still dug down deep when it mattered most to dispose of the Minutemen, who drop to 15-15 overall and 2-4 in the NLC.
The Tigers pulled away late in game one thanks in large part to the serving of setter Hubner. Concord used a 6-0 run in game two to turn an 18-14 deficit into a 20-18 lead. Warsaw rallied to tie it at 22-22 all thanks to a key kill by Jensen and a huge ace from junior standout Emily Poe. Lacheta, a Division I prospect, slammed a monster kill to start a 3-0 run to end the second set.
The final game of the 70-minute match was nip-and-tuck. A 3-0 run, sparked by two huge plays at the net by sophomore middle Katie Voelz, gave Warsaw breathing room late at 22-19. Voelz then delivered a kill, followed by one from Poe before a service error by Concord clinched the Tiger win and the NLC outright championship.“It’s incredible to me,” said Sanchez of the NLC championship. “I waited four years to beat Memorial. This is icing on the cake. It was hard to come up just short the last three years, but now we made history for our school. We have a lot of talent on this team. But, we needed six players locked in and to pick each other up and that’s what we’ve done this season.”
Fifth-year coach Warsaw coach Mike Howard knows this was a breakthrough moment for his program.
“This is really the first thing we’ve accomplished,” said Howard. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment, especially for our seniors, and a significant achievement by this team. Our goal this year was to win the NLC. Beating Memorial was only part of the goal. That win would have been kind of hollow if we had not gone on and finished at 7-0.
“The thing is that there is really no night off in our conference. The quality of volleyball just keeps improving every year. This win finishes our accomplishment.”
Howard did admit his team did not have its best performance Thursday night.
“We were not sharp tonight,” Howard said. “Our decision making and ball handling was not sharp. I don’t know if we relaxed because we stressed how dangerous Concord is. Everything was different tonight with the pink jerseys and everything going on. And there was a different type of pressure with this match. I did think Taylor Jagger was sharp with consistency for us.”
Poe delivered big time from behind the service line with six aces. Lacheta, Hubner and Jensen each added one for the Tigers. Voelz had three blocks and eight kills, while Poe and sophomore Taylor Jagger each had six kills. Lacheta had 11 digs and junior Delaney Goble nine.
Concord, which returned just four letter winners from last year’s 24-10 team, was led by nine kills by both sophomore Mackenzie Granitz and junior Holly Angel. Kennadie Lopez, one of three seniors for coach Laurie Rhoades’ team, had four aces and 13 digs. Sophomore Jade Iavagnilio had 21 digs, sophomore Gabby Staggs four blocks and sophomore Holyn Eldridge 19 assists and senior Natalie Schiavone nine.
Warsaw won the junior varsity match 25-22, 25-15 Thursday evening.
Warsaw plays at Clinton Prairie Saturday and hosts Class 4-A two-time defending state champion Penn (23-4) Monday in the regular-season finale and Senior Night. Concord plays at NLC foe Plymouth Tuesday.
The IHSAA will hold the drawing for pairings for the state tournament Monday, starting at 9 a.m. Sectional play starts the week of Oct. 15 with Warsaw and Concord both playing in the Class 4-A Northridge Sectional.