SYRACUSE – A pair of tourney vets moved on Thursday night in the opening round of the Class 3-A Wawasee Volleyball Sectional. NorthWood, winners of 20 volleyball sectionals, had no trouble putting Wawasee away in straights in the night’s opener and West Noble, winners of two of the last three Class 3-A sectional tournaments, knocked off its NECC neighbors, Lakeland, in the nightcap.
NORTHWOOD 3, WAWASEE 0
“Yeah, they are better than us,” was as blunt as Wawasee head coach Jeff Phillips could be of the 25-14, 25-5, 25-9 NorthWood win. “That’s the hot take everybody knows. That team is 28-3 and hasn’t lost since August.”
It showed. After Wawasee errors ran the score out to 10-4 in the first set, it suddenly got to 14-5. While Wawasee did get the score back to 16-11 after a Madi Simmons kill, NorthWood let its bombers, Maddy Payne and Alea Minnich, go to work. Two kills and a block from Payne and two hammers from Minnich loudly ended the first set. Both hitters would tie for the nightly honors with 10 kills.
As the second game’s score indicated, NorthWood indeed ran out quickly in the form of an 8-0 lead using a pair of aces from Kennedy Hochstetler, who had three in total for the night to go with a team-leading 14 digs. Her hustle on the backline was notable, as Wawasee couldn’t find many gaps in the Panther defense.
“We try to determine where we think the ball is going to more,” stated NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig on deciding to put Hochstetler in charge of the defense. “If we think teams are going to attack us more on that corner, Kendal (Miller) is the libero and if we think they are going to more to the middle back, Keni is the libero. We thought Wawasee likes to attack that middle, and (Hochstetler) played great tonight.”
While the game was not a total whitewash, for every mini run Wawasee went on, NorthWood would counter. Case in point in game three. After Phillips decided to pull his team into the lockerroom for a powwow during the changeover, his team came out with some fire. The game was tied at five, however, NorthWood would both create and take what it was given and rattled off eight straight points to put away any doubt of an elongated night. Kate Rulli took the stage for NorthWood in game three with a pair of kills and a block as NorthWood locked up its appearance to the semi-finals.
“You look at some of their stats and we have five girls with 100 kills on the season,” emoted Phillips, continuing, “So do they, but they have one with almost 300 (Payne), too. We have two setters with 500 assists and they have one with 850. That’s the difference in high school between a 28-win team and a 15-win team. A 15-win team isn’t a bad team, it’s just the difference between us and them is 350 assists and an extra 300 kills. That’s a massive difference in volleyball over the course of a season.”
With just 28 points to speak of, Wawasee’s stat leaders were limited. Emma Dippon led the Warriors with seven kills and Liz Kleopfer assisted on 12 of the points. Kai Jamora and Aundreya Wegener combined for nine digs and Leslie Vazquez added a block.
Wawasee closes 15-17 for its season and NorthWood moves to 29-3 with a date against 20-11 Tippecanoe Valley in Saturday’s first semi-final at 11 a.m.
Added Laidig, “We just trust these girls and we want them to have that chance to get out there and see who’s going to go there and put Maddy against their (middle hitter Makenna Woodcox) or Kate up against their girl and see how we do.”
WEST NOBLE 3, LAKELAND 0
In a minor upset in the second matchup, West Noble bested Lakeland 25-23, 25-15, 25-19 to move onto the semi-finals. The Chargers, which came into the night 9-19, used a solid night from Nichelle Phares, who had 12 kills and a block. Kristina Teel added 34 assists, Jenna Hutsell had eight kills and Madison Doege seven kills. West Noble had just beaten the Lakers, 2-0, in the NECC tournament last week, but lost 3-1 to the Lakers during the regular season.
Lakeland bows out at 14-18 overall, seeing Bailey Hartsough rack up 12 kills, 12 digs and a block. Kelsie Bowling added five kills and five digs.
West Noble (10-19) will meet Jimtown (13-12) in the second semi-final Saturday at Wawasee, an approximate 12:45 start.