MISHAWAKA – The Warsaw volleyball team proved it could play with perennial power Penn Monday night.
The problem was that the Tigers just couldn’t finish what they started.
The host Kingsmen shook off a slow start to rally past Warsaw 3-1 in prep action.
Penn, ranked No. 14 in Class 4-A, posted the 16-25, 25-22, 25-11, 27-25 victory.
Alyssa Schneider, a 6-1 senior, had a big match in the middle to power Penn to the win on Senior Night. Schneider, despite still recovering from a pulled stomach muscle, led the winners.
The Kingsmen, who dropped a 3-1 final at Warsaw last year, improve to 24-6. Warsaw, coming off a second-place finish Saturday in the Clinton Prairie Invitational, drops to 22-7.
The Tigers made a valiant bid to force the match into a fifth set. Penn led 24-19 in the final game before Warsaw rallied behind the serving of Megan Chauncey to take a 25-24 lead. The Kingsmen tied it at 25-25 on a kill by junior Sarah Ross and then took a 26-25 edge on a block by Schneider. Penn claimed the win as a back row attack by Ross caromed off the top of the net and fell to the floor.
“We fought back in game four and had an opportunity to win,” said Warsaw coach Mike Howard. “We just didn’t take big swings. You have to swing big at the end to beat a good team.”
Warsaw looked strong at the start with stellar serving and blocking to take control. The Tigers dominated the opening set and led 20-15 in the second set after a 6-0 run. The Kingsmen rallied back as their serving, led by senior Lexi Ball, and their passing picked up. Penn tied the pivotal second set at 22-22 and then took advantage of a key service error by the Tigers and a big block by Schneider to even the match.
The Kingsmen, with momentum clearly on their side, dominated game three.
The fourth and final game was there for the taking for either squad. The Kingsmen built leads of 16-9 and 19-13 before the duo of Emily Poe and Laura Craig rallied Warsaw back into the striking distance.
“I think that if we win that second game we win the match,” Howard said. “We just had missed assignments and did not communicate very well out there tonight. It was a mental thing.
“Their defense really picked up late in the second set and in the third and fourth and so did their serving. They made us play ball. I thought Cassie (Hoag) scrambled to get to some balls and that Meg (Chauncey) served well for us.
“I’m frustrated tonight. I feel like we went back to making errors that we did early in the season.”
Penn, which won back-to-back state championships in 2010 and 2011 by going 77-2, was 33-6 a year ago and lost to Carmel in the semi state championship.
“We started to pass the ball and could set the middle (Schneider) and it’s a completely different game,” said third-year Penn coach Sarah Hendricks. “We’ve had a tendency to start slow and we did again tonight.
“We started serving and passing and it’s a different game. Once we get a rhythm, things click. We learned how to fight at the end. Warsaw was fighting tooth and nail and we fought back and that’s a good learning lesson for us. It’s about how you finish.”
Junior Katie Voelz led the Tigers with a team-high 13 kills to go with three blocks and two aces.
Senior Laura Craig had 17 digs and added 10 kills for Warsaw. Junior Megan Chauncey had four aces and 21 assists, while freshman Cassie Hoag had 16 assists and sophomore Jordyn Lindeman one block. Senior Emily Poe powered down 12 kills and sophomore Peyton Adamiec had 12 digs for the Tigers.
Warsaw and Penn will both host sectionals next week. Penn plays South Bend Riley Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. in a first-round match. Warsaw faces Elkhart Memorial Oct. 26 in a semifinal match at 12:30 p.m. The Tigers and Kingsmen would meet again at Penn in a one-match regional on Oct. 29 if both win sectional championships.
Penn outlasted the Tigers to win the junior varsity match by a 25-19, 22-25, 15-13 count.
Warsaw hosts Fort Wayne Carroll Wednesday. Penn plays at Michigan City Thursday.