The stellar senior group provided one more memorable moment Monday night to add to their legacy.
The Tigers, showing the heart of a champion, topped Class 4-A perennial power Penn 3-1 in the regular-season finale.
An emotion-charged Warsaw squad made it a Senior Night for the scrapbooks by stunning the two-time defending state champions 25-20, 25-13, 27-29, 25-20.
Warsaw, which ends the regular season 26-5, now has three signature wins this season on its impressive resume. The Tigers won 3-2 at Class 3-A No. 5 Marian Aug. 20, rallied to edge host Elkhart Memorial 3-2 to snap the Crimson Chargers’ 76-match win streak in the NLC on Aug. 23 and now own a victory over the Class 4-A No. 7 Kingsmen.
Penn, which falls to 24-5, went 77-2 (with both losses to Muncie Burris) the past two years to claim back-to-back Class 4-A state championships.
Warsaw, which had won just one set versus Penn in their last four meetings, simply outplayed, outworked and wanted it more than the Kingsmen on this night in a heavyweight prizefight between a pair of undefeated conference champions (Warsaw at 7-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference and Penn at 8-0 in the Northern Indiana Conference).
“I’m just so happy to be part of this,” said Warsaw senior setter Chloe Hubner, who played a brilliant all-around match. “We just wanted this so bad with it being our last match here. We’ve ben so heartbroken in the past. It’s hard to explain, but it’s so different this year. We have a lot of faith in each other and feel we can do anything when we play together as a team.”
Not to correct Hubner, who was all over the court in directing the Tiger attack with smarts, savvy and hustle. But, the Tigers could have one more match at home with the stakes being much higher than Monday night.
Warsaw could meet Penn again in a one-match regional Oct. 23 back in the Tiger Den. That’s if both favorites with their respective sectionals next week, Warsaw playing at Northridge and Penn at South Bend Washington.
“I could not be happier or prouder of these girls,” said Warsaw coach Mike Howard. “Penn is the one team we’ve really struggled against, only winning one game from them in 2009 in my first four years here.
“The Memorial win was bigger because of the 76 in a row in the NLC and they are in our sectional. They’re the elephant in the room. But, this is huge. We’ve preached to play harder than the other team and we did tonight.”Warsaw honored seniors Hubner, Jamie Lacheta, Alex Sanchez, Sam Jensen and Rebecca Ailes prior to the match.
A fired-up Tiger team then went out and took it to the Kingsmen. Warsaw used a 9-1 run to seize control and momentum in the pivotal opening set. Lacheta was huge with three blasts for aces behind the service line with her monster jump serve. Penn rallied to tie it at 19-19 before a big kill by star junior Emily Poe, two huge plays at the net by Katie Voelz and a great dump ball by Hubner for a key point gave Warsaw a 1-0 lead.
Warsaw dominated the second set with a 7-0 run in the middle of it, sparked by the serving of the ever-steady Jensen, to make it 2-0. The Kingsmen built a huge 21-13 lead in game three before the resilient Tigers used an 11-3 run to tie it at 24-24. Warsaw led 25-24 before Penn got a clutch kill by standout Becca Lira and then a trio of hits from Aly Schneider to win 29-27.
The Tigers rode the momentum of its comeback in game three to a hot start in set four. The hosts bolted to a quick 10-5 lead with great play at the net from sophomore middle Voelz. The Kingsmen could get no closer than three points in the final game. Warsaw sealed the deal as Jensen delivered a kill for the final point of the 1:43 contest.
“Chloe played great for us, Sam is our rock and just makes winning plays, Alex had one-arm digs early that got us momentum and we can count on Jamie,” Howard said. “It was huge for us with a different starting lineup (in honor of Senior Night) to win game one. The service line was key for us. We took them out of system and made them predictable. When we’re efficient, we’re hard to beat.
“My focus with our girls from this match will be game three in how we came back and fought back. I’ll focus with them on how much heart they showed. We didn’t win that game, but we took that momentum from fighting back to game four.”
Lacheta led Warsaw with 17 kills and six aces.
“This is almost indescribable,” said Lacheta. “We wanted it so bad and fought so hard for it. It’s just an extremely good feeling to beat the two-time defending state champs. This and beating Memorial are both equally momentus in their own way. This should give us the biggest confidence boost we could ever get.”
Voelz had a huge match at the net as the sophomore middle produced four blocks and a dozen kills.
“This is overwhelming to me,” Voelz said. “I’m still shaking. Coach had a great plan and we played our game. This is a great senior class to have and I love playing with them. This is the year for us.”Hubner racked up 38 assists to go with two aces, a block and 10 digs. Poe was big with nine kills, 13 digs, an ace and a block. Jensen had an ace and a block and Sanchez led the defense with 18 digs.
Penn’s previous four losses this season were to Class 4-A No. 1 New Castle, Class 4-A No. 9 Perry Meridian, Class 3-A No. 7 Muncie Central and Center Grove. The Kingsmen have just three seniors this season after graduating stars Kaitlyn Hickey and 6-4 lefty Annie Drews from last year’s 38-1 team. Hickey is now a starter at IUPUI and Drews is starting for No. 17 Purdue.
“This is the worst I’ve seen us play this season,” said second-year Penn coach Sarah Hendricks, a former state champion at Michigan City and an All-American at Loyola Marymount. “We didn’t have one player play well. You can’t win like that. We didn’t do the basics tonight.
“They wanted to win more than we did. Warsaw deserved to win. They played harder than we did. But, this is what we’ve done this season. We need to figure it out and play like we practice. Everyone gives us their best because we are Penn. We need to find leadership and have people step up. We were flat in games one and two. We’ll go back to basics 100 percent.
“No. 16 (Jamie Lacheta) is a good player with good skills. The thing about her is you could see how much she wanted to win tonight. She put her team on her shoulders.”
Senior Becca Lira led Penn with 14 kills. Junior Aly Schneider had 13 and senior Jasmine Obren 10. Junior Meg Gabbard had 15 digs.
Warsaw won the junior varsity match 25-17, 25-14 to improve to 20-1. Megan Chauncey led the way for coach Chandra Hepler’s squad with two kills, 14 Assists, two digs and an ace. Peyton Adamiec had 10 digs, Gabby Herman two kills, two digs and two aces, Courtney Steffensmeier one kill and a dig and Celia Heckert three kills and four digs. Jordyn Lindeman added one kill and a dig, Jodie Carlson four kills, Kiersten Smith six digs and six aces, Caroline Mayer four kills, two digs and an ace and Sydney Hartman two digs.
Warsaw (26-5) plays Concord Oct. 18 in a first-round match of the Class 4-A Northridge Sectional. Warsaw (24-5) hosts Michigan City Thursday and then faces Mishawaka Oct. 18 in a first-round match of the Class 4-A South Bend Washington Sectional.