AKRON — There were few surprises at the Tippecanoe Valley Sectional semifinals Saturday morning. There was almost a huge one at Elkhart Memorial.
West Noble advanced in three games over NorthWood, backing up an earlier, regular-season win, while the host Lady Vikings swept Lakeland in three sets to set up Saturday evening’s championship showdown.
At Memorial, Warsaw had to win a fifth set to beat the host Elkhart Memorial Chargers
WEST NOBLE 3, NORTHWOOD 0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-13)
NorthWood was hoping to reprise an earlier, two-set tournament loss to West Noble in the early semifinal Saturday, but apart from a few brief moments early in the match, the Lady Panthers were never out front, and the Chargers beat them in the minimum of games once again.
“They are just so consistent, and they don’t make a lot of mistakes so when you build any deficit at all it is really, really hard to get back on them,” said NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig. “They’re a solid team. Not a lot of pizzaz or anything, but they do what they do and every kid knows their role.”
Senior hitter Madison Shermerhorn played a lot of roles for West Noble, finishing with 13 digs, 11 kills, two aces, two solo blocks and two block assists. She didn’t lead her team in either attacking or defense — Tori Miller tallied 13 kills, and Tara Miller recorded 21 digs — but was just all-around solid for her squad in the win.
“It’s her senior year. I think this is the best tournament I’ve seen her play. Kind of that senior year thing where she really stepped up,” explained Laidig. “She’s a good player all the time, but I thought today she just really showed a lot of dominance and wanted the ball, took care of the ball and acted like a senior.”
“She has such great court awareness. She plays all year round, and she just is a phenomenal player,” said West Noble coach Kaija Kauffman of Schermerhorn. “She’s great in the front row, but she’s key for us in the back row, too. She picks up a lot of stuff. She reads really well, and really she’s so humble. She believes her teammates are what make her as good as she is, and she’s right.”
The Chargers made a grand total of one service error in the match, and NorthWood struggled with its serve receive, which made it difficult for the Panthers to get into their offense and led to some long runs by West Noble.
“Our serve receive really struggled, and I think they served in our seams really well so we were having to guess. Not a lot of communication back there to decide who was going to take it so we never really got going offensively,” said Laidig.
Maddy Payne and Kate Rulli paced the Wood attack with seven and five kills, respectively, and each finished with three blocks at the net. Payne also served up a trio of aces, and Caroline Mullett set 19 assists in the season-ending loss. Whitney Gessinger finished with 15 digs, followed by Gracie Clark’s 10.
The Panthers closed the year at 25-9 and say goodbye to seniors Gessinger and Riley Graber.
“Whitney Gessinger is our libero, just a spitfire on our team who plays so many balls up and then Riley Graber this year too just vocally has been out there for us, put a nice block on the right side for us. We’re going to miss them a lot,” Laidig said.
“A great season. It leaves a bad taste with the sectional when you don’t play exactly well, but 25 wins is a great season. We had a great conference season, so looking forward to what’s ahead.”
TIPPECANOE VALLEY 3, LAKELAND 0 (25-14, 25-14, 25-13)
Valley was the easy favorite on paper in its late semifinal with Lakeland, but the Lady Vikings weren’t taking any chances, either.
The hosts jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the opening set, used a 6-1 spurt to grab control midway through the second and pretty much rolled in the third set over the Lakers. They barely ever trailed in the win.
“Sometimes sectionals are the hardest games to win when you theoretically, statistically should. You have to come out and treat every opponent like they’re going to state. The minute that you don’t honor that team, they’ll beat you,” said Valley coach Mallory Eaton.
With her second dig of the night, senior Sophie Bussard surpassed the 1,000 career dig mark, becoming the first player in Valley history to reach both 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs. She played an all-around solid match against Lakeland, with a number of tip kills at the net, but the Vikings had big contributions up and down their lineup.
“Sophie is a great athlete, and we could talk about that all day, but I really feel like our entire team is stepping up. They want this so bad, and I’m really seeing some other kids step up and take control,” said Eaton. “Our setting has really matured so that’s a big help. We’re just finally firing on all cylinders, and the kids are really believing they can do it.”
Defensively, Eaton and company made Lakeland sophomore Bailey Hartsough a focal point after a 31-kill night against Wawasee Thursday. Hartsough wasn’t able to get much going Saturday, and as a result neither was the rest of the Lakeland roster.
“Our game plan was pretty simple. It’s obvious to see that (Bailey Hartsough) is their star hitter so we really just kind of camped on her,” Eaton said.
“I’m going to tip my cap to my assistant Jon Hutton because he is I would say a blocking specialist, and he’s really been working with our kids and they’ve just been soaking it up. That’s been huge on the defensive side.”
Saturday’s final is set for 5 p.m.
WARSAW 3, MEMORIAL 2 (19-25, 26-24, 25-23, 22-25, 15-4)
Warsaw staved off elimination by rallying to dump Memorial in five anxious games. After sweeping Memorial 3-0 during the regular season, the Chargers put up a big-time fight but couldn’t knock out the favorites.
Warsaw (28-7) advances to the championship game at 7 p.m., where it will face Northridge, which beat Concord 25-14, 25-10, 25-15.