ELKHART – The action was so intense that the paramedics showed up.
Warsaw was able to cap a very wild day of volleyball with a 3-0 win Saturday night in the championship of the Elkhart Memorial Volleyball Sectional, winning its first championship since 2004. Perhaps a heartstopping performance for the Tigers, which were pushed to the limit in the morning semi-final by Memorial then pressured by the Northridge Raiders, which were playing with nothing to lose.
After surviving a five-setter against Memorial in the morning session, Warsaw came back to face Ridge in the final, and quickly found themselves down 3-0 in the first game. But as the night would morph into a series of streaks, Warsaw would take the next seven points. Ridge would get the match as close at 16-14, but Warsaw would rattle off eight of the next nine points, sparked by a Kacy Bragg kill and tip. At 25-17 Warsaw in game one, a slight look of relief beset upon the Tiger faces.
“When the set is tight, that’s when I go for it,” Bragg said of picking and choosing her spots to go over. Bragg had eight kills to go with four digs, three aces, a block and another 40 assists. “If I don’t feel like I have a clean chance to set, if I see some space, I’ll go for it.”
As Ariana Grande’s Bang Bang played over the Memorial speakers ahead of game two, the Tigers started to look like the loose and energetic bunch that came into the night with 28 wins. Another clever tip to space by Bragg pushed the Tigers to a 14-6 advantage, and Katie Swanson blasted a big kill to run the score to 21-14. Ridge would post a mini rally, getting the score back to 23-16, but the gym would go silent at Elkhart paramedics walked into the gym. Responding to a heart monitor call for Warsaw supporter Fred Nieter, the moment was shifted into laughter as Nieter had tripped his device rooting on the Tigers and asked the paramedics to hold his remote so his Tigers could finish out the set.
A Swanson kill and illegal hit on the Raiders closed out a 25-17 second set, leaving Nieter and the Tiger supporters jovial.
“I feel that even though my swing has been on, I have the rest of the team to fall back on if I miss one,” Swanson said, who ended with a team-high 11 kills. “The team has always been on and always been there. With the energy we’ve played with this week, it’s impossible to not be on and want to finish.”
A 25-23 third set saw some good volleyball by both sides. Bragg again had a pair of tipped shots into space to score points, Cora West had a huge dig that led to a point, and the seldom used Gwyn Bellamy pounded home the championship point.
Bellamy finished with eight kills, Betty Barnett had 10 kills, Erin Peugh slid into the libero and had nine digs, as did Kylie Smith, and Emily Schmidt added 11 digs.
“When I first got the job, the kids told me how long the drought has been since they’ve won sectionals,” said Warsaw head coach Rick Ashmore, in his third season at the helm. “We put it in as one of our goals was to win sectionals and advance in the state tournament. We’re looking at a bunch of kids, you saw freshmen out there, you saw seniors out there. Everybody contributed. It’s been different people giving us the win Thursday against Goshen. Different people stepped up today and gave us what we needed to go.”
Added West, who had 11 digs in the match, “This has been so fun. Our expectations have been high all year. At practice, we’re fighting for spots. We’re always trying to do our best. But we saw today that the hard work in practice has us ready for what we had to do to beat Memorial and then Northridge. This is pretty awesome right now.”
Northridge ends its season 9-24 overall, but the growth head coach Jodie Steele saw in her team, particularly from the first contest it lost, 3-0, at Warsaw in early September, was marked.
“We’ve really improved in these last couple of weeks,” Steele said. “We’ve worked much harder in practice and want to make improvements and changes. We just needed someone to put a couple balls away tonight and couldn’t get it. But credit Warsaw for making that happen, they were all over defensively. We made some runs, like in the second game, but it was a little too late.”
Warsaw, now 29-7 on the season and winners of 13 of its last 14 contests, will take on Michigan City (29-7) in the first game of the LaPorte Volleyball Regional next Saturday. The Wolves beat Warsaw, 2-1, in the championship match of the Michigan City in mid-September. Penn (31-5) and Munster (32-4) play in the second semi-final.