NAPPANEE – The NorthWood volleyball team proved to be a fearless, formidable foe for Warsaw Thursday night.
The Panthers though, come next Thursday night, will be huge fans of the Tigers.
NorthWood, showcasing an incredible will to win, rallied to stun the Tigers for a thrilling 3-2 victory in a huge Northern Lakes Conference match.
Kennedy Wiens had a senior moment to remember for the hosts as the Panthers posted an incredible 25-19, 17-25, 21-25, 26-24, 15-8 win in the marathon masterpiece in the Panther Pit.
NorthWood improves to 20-8 overall, but more importantly goes to 5-1 in NLC play. The Panthers can earn a share of the league championship next Thursday night if they win at Wawasee and Warsaw knocks off league leader Concord on the final night of NLC play. Concord sits at 6-0 in the NLC after a 3-0 win over Northridge Thursday night, while the Tigers are now 4-2 in league play.
Wiens, one of six seniors who was saluted prior to the match on Senior Night, was simply sensational. The outside hitter somehow willed her team to an improbable win as NorthWood trailed 24-20 in the fourth set before rallying to score the final six points to even the match.
Wiens, a four-year standout for the Panthers, did it all. She finished with a match-high 19 kills to go with 23 digs and a pair of service aces in the match that lasted right at two hours.
“On a scale of 1-10, this win is a 100,” said Wiens following the donnybrook. “Warsaw is always our biggest rival and to finally beat them for the first time like this is just a huge win for us. There are no words to describe if we can win the NLC next week. That would be awesome. We will be huge Warsaw fans for sure when they play Concod next week.
“Coach always says never give up and that’s what we did tonight. We’ve been practicing to never let the ball drop and that was huge for us tonight.”
NorthWood, which lost a 3-2 final at home to Concord back on Aug. 31, was not about to let this one get away no matter what.
The Panthers showed a resiliency at the end of the fourth set trailing 24-20 that was astounding. It was senior Haylee Pennington who played the role of hero too for the home team. Pennington slammed down two kills, including the game winner, as her team scored the final six points of the game. The Panthers also got a huge ace from sophomore Gracie Clark in the pivotal rally and took advantage of three mistakes by the Tigers, who were twice called for four hits in the huge sequence.
NorthWood, with momentum clearly on its side, then rolled to a dominating win in the final set for the victory. The hosts broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth game with a 7-0 run of points, keyed by the stellar serving of Wiens.
“Our girls were just determined at the end of that fourth set,” said ninth-year NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig, who beat Warsaw for the first time. “At the end of that game, I saw it in their eyes that they were not afraid to make an error. That’s a look that maybe I did not see at a time like that in a match earlier in our season.
“These six seniors have been our program. To beat a team like Warsaw on Senior Night is really, really special. You want your seniors to have a big win on that night and they got one tonight. We talked after the match that we have done all we can do now in the NLC. We have to go take care of Wawasee next week and we will be big Warsaw fans.”
Laidig, whose team went 2-5 in the NLC a year ago, also had high praise for Wiens.
“What I love about Kennedy is that in competition she is going to go for it,” said Laidig. “She’s going to go get it and more times than not it’s going to be really good for us.
“I thought getting the momentum for the fifth set was big for us. Every girl out there for us in that fifth game put the ball away.”
Warsaw coach Rick Ashmore was to the point about his team’s loss, especially the key stretch at the end of the fourth game.
“We had every opportunity to win in four tonight,” said Ashmore. “We were up 24-20 with our three best hitters out there and we couldn’t get the ball over the net. We had the people we wanted on the court. We just did not take care of it.
“It’s very disappointing. Kennedy played really well for NorthWood. She stepped up and our stars disappeared in the fourth and fifth games. We have to learn don’t ease up.”
Warsaw, which drops to 18-11 overall, got big play from Lexie Day and Katie Swanson in games two and three to seemingly take control of the match. But, the host Panthers simply had other ideas in the end.
Wiens powered the Panthers with 19 kills. Senior Pennington and sophomore Maddy Payne each had 13. Wiens and Clark each had two aces, while junior libero Whitney Gessinger had 25 digs. Payne had three blocks and Natalie Gerber two and Courtney Lengacher 51 assists.
The duo of senior Day and junior Swanson each had 12 kills for Warsaw. Senior Hanna Leach and junior Kacy Bragg each had 11. Freshman Betty Barnett had one ace and Bragg 45 assists. Freshman Kennedy Lauck had six blocks and Bragg 3. Junior Erin Peugh had 20 digs, while Day had 17, Elizabeth Schmidt 13, Bragg 12 and Emali Grose 10.
NorthWood honored seniors Wiens, Pennington, Natalie Gerber, Kenzie Moren, Alexis Klotz and Courtney Lengacher prior to the match.
Warsaw won the junior varsity match 24-25, 25-22, 15-13. McKenna Hawblitzel led the winners with nine kills, 13 digs and two aces. Sierra Dorrossett had eight kills and Kaia Hummitch three blocks for Warsaw. The Tigers won the freshman match 18-25, 25-14, 15-7. Tessa Wood had 12 kills, Rylee Kaufman 16 digs and Isabelle Hamil four aces to lead Warsaw.
Warsaw hosts the Tiger Invitational Saturday at the Dunes Club in Rolling Prairie. NorthWood hosts Mishawaka Marian Monday night.