ALBION — It had been eight days since the Whitko volleyball team had taken the court, but the ladies did not let that become an excuse in Tuesday’s sectional opener. There were certainly some bumps along the way, but Wildcats still started their postseason journey with a 3-0 win against Fremont in the IHSAA Class 2-A Sectional 35 Tournament at Central Noble.
Whitko came out as the better team and managed to keep that tone for all three sets against the Eagles. Whitko built a small lead, supported by small runs to help top Fremont 25-18 in the opening game. That formula would prove to be successful in the second game as well. Whitko was never quite dominant, despite showing it had the more dominant players, but small three to four-point runs were enough to keep the Eagles at bay for another game as the Wildcats once again won 25-18.
The dynamic changed a bit in the third set. The Eagles finally seemed to wake up and were suddenly matching the Wildcats point for point. The two teams went back and forth for virtually the entire match until, once more, Whitko was able to find itself a small run and hang on for a 25-21 win.
It certainly was not pretty at times, but a win was the biggest goal after having more than a week off.
“We didn’t serve the ball very well tonight,” began Whitko head coach Mike Howard. “We made a lot of service errors in the first set. We struggled, throughout the match, just a little bit, with unclean play at the net. Haley Yohe came in and played a really nice service game for us in all three games. She was really just steady, she was our steadiest player tonight. She did a great job for us tonight.
“We’ve not played for, it’s almost been 10 days. That’s a long time to go without a match. We sort of expected a little bit of rust. We’re coming off of fall break, this was our first day back at school after four days off. We can be cleaner and we hope to be cleaner with some practice and a game under our belt now.”
When asked about the biggest thing to tweak before Saturday’s semifinal match, Howard had an answer.
“I think it’s just our mental approach to the game,” stated the coach. “We just talk about giving a better effort than the other team. If we do that, then we can be satisfied winning, losing, whatever happens. If we play as hard as we can and we play harder than the other team, I think good things happen for us and we can withstand errors a lot better.
“You have to come in knowing you’ve got two good teams ahead of you. You have two matches on Saturday, you can’t worry about conserving energy. You have to win the first to get to the second and know that records don’t mean anything at this point in the season, it’s just how well you pass and serve in the end.”
Yohe led Whitko with 36 assists, six aces and one block, all team-high numbers. Kristina Slater had 24 digs to lead the team while Kaity Reed had a team-high 20 kills and added 17 digs of her own.
Whitko (23-12) will play LaVille Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in the first of two semifinals.
Thursday evening the sectional’s other four teams will play. Westview plays Prairie Heights at 6 p.m. with Bremen and Central Noble to follow. The winner of those two games will meet in Saturday’s seconds semifinal. The championship match is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday night.