Coach Mike Howard knows though that the year will be defined in the end by what the postseason brings for his Tigers.
Warsaw begins that postseason play Thursday night in a new role, that of favorites in the six-team, Class 4-A Northridge Sectional.
The Tigers, 26-5 on the season, are 4-0 versus the field, including a 3-0 win over NLC foe Concord, the opponent in Thursday night’s sectional opener.
“We haven’t even talked about that,” said Howard of being the favorite as the Tigers bid for the program’s first sectional championship since 2004. “It’s a whole new season now and you wipe the slate clean. There are a lot of teams in our sectional that were playing well at the end of the season. There are a lot of quality teams in our sectional.
“It’s all about survive and advance now. It’s the old cliche of just taking one match at a time. It’s all about who’s playing the best on that given night now. We know that we have the capabilities and we know what we have to do. We’ll be ready to play come Thursday. To do something special, you have to get out of the sectional first.”
Warsaw has not played since upending Class 4-A No. 6 Penn at home 3-1 on Oct. 8.
“It’s good for us to play Thursday night,” Howard said. “It’s been a long break and you never know what that time off will do to a team. We’ve worked hard to balance rest with reps with keeping our momentum. We’ll just have to see what happens come Thursday.”
Warsaw claimed the Northern Lakes Conference title with a perfect 7-0 run. That impressive effort included a 3-2 win at Elkhart Memorial on Aug. 23. That NLC win snapped the Chargers’ 76-match league winning streak dating back to 2001. The Tigers also won 3-2 at Class 3-A power Mishawaka Marian on Aug. 20. In both of those road wins, an experienced Warsaw team trailed 2-1 before winning the final two sets.
Memorial, which owns five straight sectional titles under coach Jacquie Rost, plays Goshen in the second match Thursday. The Chargers, who were state runner-up in 2007 and 2009 under Rost, are 16-17. The Redskins are 10-22.
The Tigers have a tough draw with Concord (17-16) and then barring a big upset a semifinal showdown with Memorial and a title meeting with Elkhart Central (21-6). The Chargers have played a brutally tough schedule. Central, which plays host Northridge (24-9) in the bye match on Saturday, is led by junior star Azariah Stahl. The high-flying outside hitter has made a verbal commitment to Purdue.
“These girls have answered the bell each time this season and won every meaningful match,” said Howard, in his fifth season at WCHS. “I believe in them. We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time.”
The Tigers rely on strong serving from a slew of players, plenty of experience with four senior starters and a wide arsenal on offense. Warsaw boasts big hitter Jamie Lacheta, who will play at Valparaiso University, as its top gun. Howard has plenty of offense to rely on though from others like standout junior Emily Poe, unsung sophomore middle Katie Voelz and solid senior Sam Jensen. The Tigers also have a great “quarterback” in senior setter Chloe Hubner and feisty senior libero Alex Sanchex.
“The key for us is our service pressure on teams,” said Howard. “It sets everything up. We have a lot of weapons and we’re a team that when we are playing our best we go on sustained runs.”
Wawasee, 18-15 on the season, got a very favorable draw in the Class 3-A Fairfield Sectional. Coach Jeff Phillips squad, whose last match was a 3-0 loss to NLC foe Northridge on Oct. 11, faces Tippecanoe Valley in the bye semifinal contest Saturday. The Vikings, who are 12-13, edged Wawasee 3-2 in Syracuse back on Aug. 14. Valley won the final three sets of that match, including 19-17 in the final one. Valley defeated Wawasee 3-2 in a first-round sectional match a year ago at West Noble, winning 16-14 in the final set. Wawasee’s last volleyball sectional title came in 1995.
The field at Fairfield is led by the No. 7 host Falcons. Coach Carla Herschberger’s strong squad, formerly a state power in Class 2-A with state runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2010, sits at 30-1 on the season. Fairfield faces NorthWood (26-7) on Thursday in first-round play. The Falcons, who have won eight straight sectional championships, beat the Panthers 3-0 on Aug. 21.
Whitko opens sectional play Thursday versus Heritage in a first-round match of the Class 3-A Norwell Sectional. Triton opened postseason action Tuesday night with a 3-0 win over South Central in the Class 1-A Culver Sectional. The Trojans play Argos Saturday in a semifinal. Lakeland Christian Academy, playing in its first-ever sectional as a member of the IHSAA, lost 3-0 to Fort Wayne Blackhawk Christian Tuesday night in the Class 1-A sectional at Blackhawk Christian.
One-match regionals are set for Tuesday, Oct. 23. The winner of the Northridge Sectional will host that contest in Class 4-A. The champion of the Fairfield Sectional will play its regional match on the road. Semistates, which include four teams, are Saturday, Oct. 27 with the State Finals Nov. 3 at Ball State University in Muncie.
At Northridge (Class 4-A)
In Northridge Middle School varsity gym.
6:00: Warsaw vs. Concord; 7:30: Goshen vs. Elkhart Memorial
11 a.m.: Thursday winners: 12:30: Northridge vs. Elkhart Central
At Fairfield (Class 3-A)
6:00: West Noble vs. Lakeland; 7:30: NorthWood vs. Fairfield
11 a.m.: Thursday winners; 12:30: Tippecanoe Valley vs. Wawasee
At Norwell (Class 3-A)
6:00: Eastbrook vs. Mississenewa; 7:30: Whitko vs. Heritage
10 a.m.: Thursday winners; 11:30: Norwell vs. Bellmont
At Culver (Class 1-A)
Triton defeated South Central 3-0
6:30: Marquette vs. Culver; 8:00: Oregon-Davis vs. Westville; 8:00
10:30 a.m.: Argos vs. Triton; 12:00: Thursday winners
At FW Blackhawk Christian (Class 1-A)
FW Blackhawk Christian defeated Lakeland Christian Academy 3-0; FW Canterbury defeated Howe 3-0
6:00: Elkhart Christian Academy vs. Lakewood Park Christian; 7:30: Bethany Christian vs. Hamilton
11 a.m.: FW Blackhawk Christian vs. FW Canterbury; 12:30: Thursday winners