GOSHEN – The Whitko volleyball team knew it would have to bring its best to the table when it began its postseason journey Tuesday night in the Class 3A Sectional 21 Tournament at Fairfield High School.
There was one team the Wildcats definitely did not want to draw for its opening match but luck was not on Whitko’s side. The ‘Cats drew 10-time defending sectional champion Fairfield and despite a few pockets of solid play, Whitko was overmatched and ultimately eliminated by the Falcons 25-17, 25-11 and 25-18.
Thing seemed to be going Whitko’s way in game one as it took a 9-6 lead over Fairfield. That lead was quickly erased by the Falcons and once Fairfield grabbed the lead, it refused to give it back.
Whitko struggled to find any kind of consistency in the second game and looked overwhelmed by the size and dominance of Fairfield. Several unforced errors took the Wildcats out of the game early and put them in an unfavorable 2-0 hole.
The spark that carried Whitko to a respectable showing in the night’s first game reignited for the third game. The Wildcats once again looked capable of stealing a game from the mighty Falcons. Fairfield found itself on the wrong end of a 10-6 score and Whitko was carrying all of the momentum. The Falcons got down to business and once again erased Whitko’s lead and stole the momentum before eventually clinching the third game and the match on a thundering kill from Andrea Hagar.
Statistically speaking, it was not a game to write home about for the Wildcats. Maddie Gawthrop led Whitko with eight kills. Emily Day and Kaity Reed were tops with three blocks each. Reed added three kills to her stat line and led the team with 11 digs. Tressa Keim led the team with one ace and added seven digs and four kills. Elaine Warner’s 20 assists were a team high.
“Fairfield is a great program,” began Whitko head coach Brandy Smith. “It’s intimidating to walk into this gym and see banner after banner after banner and know that we are still working on getting our first banner.
“Our girls did well when they got Fairfield out of system. We were able to get some points and make some runs but once they (Fairfield) got back into system, they were just dominant.”
Despite the lapse in the second game, the Wildcats really played tough in the first and third games, something the Smith was very proud to see.
“Our girls worked so hard tonight, so hard,” a choked up Smith remarked. “They played such a tough game and at times we just lost confidence. At other points we played the best we had all year, we just weren’t consistent with that play.
“We are losing four incredible seniors off this team but they leave behind something for our girls to aim for. Everyone on this team gave their heart and soul this year and I can’t ask for more than that, I’m proud of my girls no matter what.”
Whitko will graduate Keim, Warner, Gawthrop and Delany Ray but return a crop of sophomores and two juniors that all saw extensive varsity time. Whitko finishes its season with a 13-19 record. The 13 wins are the most for the program since the late 1990’s.
Fairfield will play Lakeland Saturday at 11 a.m.