Sunday night brought another round of the IHSAA sectional draws, this time for the volleyball state tournament.
Locally, three sectionals are in play, and the locals all feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe the most intriguing sectional in the area is the loaded Class 3-A No. 21 grid at Tippecanoe Valley. Both West Noble and NorthWood have racked up 23 wins this season and Fairfield is closing in on the 20s with 17. Add in the host Vikings with 15 wins and Wawasee right behind with 14 wins, and its a grouping where all of the teams know each other and have seen each other quite a bit.
Fairfield comes in as the defending champion, and has gotten its step after having to replace a lot of its championship formula via graduation last year. The Falcons just had an impressive showing at the Elkhart Memorial Tourney, where it beat both Memorial and Plymouth, but is just 1-2 against the sectional field, beating Lakeland but losing to both NorthWood and West Noble.
The Chargers are the team to beat on paper, having gone 4-0 against the sectional and are 23-4 overall. They boast of the top player in the sectional in Madison Schermerhorn, who is committed to play at Purdue next fall and has directed the team all season. Tori Miller and Kristina Teel are also impact players for the Chargers.
NorthWood heads to the tournament with a lofty record (23-7) and a nice résumé with championships at the Prairie Heights and Bremen tournaments, and were 3-1 at the Concord tourney, losing in the final to West Noble. Led by the front line of Maddy Payne and Kate Rulli and the assistant work of Whitney Gessinger and Caroline Mullett, the Panthers have the guns to keep pace with anyone.
Those three teams will get really familiar with each other as NorthWood and Fairfield open the Valley Sectional, with West Noble waiting for the winner in the first semi-final.
TIppecanoe Valley (15-14) might have earned the best draw of anyone in the bracket, getting the bye into the semis to face either Wawasee (14-15) or Lakeland (2-15). The Warriors and Lakers will play in the tourney’s second game, Wawasee winning that head-to-head match 3-2 in August with a youthful roster with the likes of juniors Madison Simmons and Elizabeth Kleopfer leading the way. Valley has had a Jeckyl and Hyde season, starting off ice cold at 4-6 only to win eight of its next nine before leveling off of late. Valley boasts of the extremely versatile Sophie Bussard, and vastly improved sophomore setter Hannah Engstrand, and has the most experience of any roster with nine seniors, but will gladly take the bye into the semis.
“This draw offers a great opportunity for my team,” said Valley head coach Mallory Eaton Sunday night after the draw was announced. “Not only do we get to host this year, but I feel this route will be in our favor for sure.”
Moving the Class 4-A and the No. 4 Elkhart Memorial Sectional, Warsaw will come out right away and take on Goshen. The Tigers are fresh off a very impressive championship run at the Dunes Tourney this past weekend and are rolling at 25-7 overall. But going back to the dual between the two Northern Lakes Conference schools, Goshen (15-9) pushed Warsaw in a four-setter if there is any cause for alarm. The play of Betty Barnett at the Dunes Tourney won her an MVP award, and Kacy Bragg has established herself as one of the top setters in the state as two of Warsaw’s shining stars. Kylie Smith, Erin Peugh and Kennedy Lauck have paced Warsaw’s defense all season long.
Waiting for the winner will be the host Chargers (15-13), which has some nice wins over teams like Mishawaka Marian and NorthWood, but are just 5-5 in its last 10 matches and lost 3-0 to Warsaw in late August.
The other three teams in the six-team grid pit Northridge (7-20) against Elkhart Central (14-9) with Concord (2-17) awaiting that winner. Concord is the defending sectional champion.
In the Class 1-A No. 51 pairings at Culver Community, Triton (5-21) has struggled filling in a huge graduating class, but has two wins against sectional teams in Culver and Argos, and 2-1 against the field with a loss to Oregon-Davis early in the season. The Trojans will meet South Central (16-9) in the third game of the draw. South Central will come in as the overwhelming favorite, with Culver (8-19) the only team with more wins than Triton, and the five teams away from the Triton-SC game having a combined 16 wins total.
Triton has seen improved play from Alyxa Viers, Jaela Faulkner, Dylanie Miller and Lexia Hostrawser, none of which were regulars on the varsity a year ago.
The remainder of the Culver draw has Argos (3-18) versus Oregon-Davis (2-13) in game one, Culver against LaCrosse (2-19) in game two, South Bend Career Academy (1-6) to meet the Argos-O-D winner, and the Culver-LaCrosse and Triton-SC winners to meet in the second semi-final.