ELKHART – The Warsaw volleyball team welcomed back coach Mike Howard in some style Thursday night.
The relentless Tigers gave their mentor a moment to remember in rallying to stun perennial power Elkhart Memorial in a classic.
Warsaw topped the Class 4-A No. 12 Crimson Chargers 16-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-17, 17-15in the thrilling Northern Lakes Conference lid lifter for both teams.
The win was not decided until right at two hours of back-and-forth play between the pair of talented teams ended on a net violation call on the hosts.
The Tigers trailed 15-14 in the final set before a timeout by Howard. Junior Jordyn Lindeman then delivered a big point to tie it and senior Katie Voelz followed with a kill to give Warsaw a 16-15 lead.
Warsaw picked up arguably the second biggest win in program history, both coming at Memorial. Two years ago the Tigers also rallied for a 3-2 win at Memorial to snap the Crimson Chargers’ 76-match NLC winning streak. That run of NLC dominance started after Memorial lost its first-ever NLC match to Warsaw.
Howard, who returned to active coaching for the first time this season after undergoing back surgery on Aug. 20, was thrilled with the fortitude shown by his young team.
“The girls took me along for the ride tonight,” said Howard. “We’ve talked about belief and trust and playing together as a team and tonight you saw that. I hope that I saw them grow up and mature tonight and I think I did.
“It was a tremendous match with two even teams and a high level of play in game five. We reshuffled our deck tonight and went with a new lineup and once we settled in it was good. We minimized our errors in the games we won.
“This was a very important match, but we can not relax in the NLC. This is just the first match. But, it’s a big one. Memorial is the measuring stick. They always have been. If you can compete with them early in the season then you have the opportunity to have a great season.
“We are a young team and we need a security blanket and that’s Katie. She’s such a focal point. I thought Jordyn (Lindeman) had a huge match for us. And we got quality serving.”
The Tiger win was especially sweet for standout senior Katie Voelz. The talented middle hitter, one of just two seniors on this year’s team, was almost thrilled beyond words.
“This is a feeling like no other,” said Voelz, who time and time again delivered clutch kills for her team. “Memorial is a great team. I give them so much credit. They put up a fight.
“They have been our rival for so long. To do this my senior year, I’m just so thankful. All the training was for this moment. It was so worth it. I was a little nervous when we were down 2-1. But, we said it was a clean slate and 0-0. We had to fight one point at a time and keep applying the pressure to them and see what happens. What we wanted to happen did.”
Memorial, which has been to the Class 4-A State Finals four times, beat the Tigers in two out of three meetings last year including in the sectional semifinals at Warsaw.
The Chargers had not played since rallying for a 3-2 home win over Class 3-A power Mishawaka Marian a week ago. Warsaw had lost a 3-0 final at Marian on Monday night.
“We were very much in control and then I think we got afraid to lose instead of playing to win,” said Memorial coach Jacquie Rost. “When you do that, you tend to make errors and we made a lot of them. In the sets we looked poor tonight, we made a lot of hitting errors and that’s uncharacteristic of this team.
“Warsaw was a very different team than the one we saw Monday night at Marian. Their serving got way more tough late in the match and they picked it up on defense. This stings a lot because the NLC is very important to us.
“But I love it that teams bring their best versus us. We will use this loss to get better and I know that we will. With our schedule, we know we have a lot of opportunities where we will have to bring it.”
Voelz led Warsaw with 21 kills. Lindeman and junior Caroline Mayer each had six and junior Haley Peterson five. Sophomore Cassie Hoag had 50 assists and sophomore Peyton Adamiec 12. Mayer and junior Blake McGarvey each had three aces and Adamiec two. Adamiec led the defense with 26 digs, while Mayer had 19 and Voelz 18. Lindeman had three blocks and Mayer and junior Courtney Steffensmeier each had two.
Tailor Schultheis, one of four seniors, led Memorial with 19 kills. Junior Darrian Mowery had 15 kills. Senior Tori Mills had 27 assists and junior libero Kaylin Szucs had 20 digs and five aces.
Warsaw improves to 6-1 overall on the varsity level and 1-0 in the NLC. Memorial drops to 2-1 and 0-1. Both teams will play, although in separate pools, in the Mishawaka Invitational on Saturday at John Young Middle School.
The Warsaw program made it a clean sweep Thursday. The JV team topped Memorial 25-17, 25-24 and the freshman unit won 25-18, 25-14. Dayton Groninger had five kills and six digs to lead the JV winners. Abby Serbousek had eight digs and two aces, Raina Armey had eight digs and Alicia Sikora 16 assists for the JV, now 3-0. Emma Gelbaugh had four aces and two kills and Emali Grose 10 assists for the freshmen team, also 3-0.