By Nick Goralczyk
WARSAW — The energy was palpable in the Tiger Den for Saturday evening’s IHSAA Volleyball Sectional 4 championship match. Warsaw and No. 7 Penn were coming off of sweeps in the semifinal round. The stage was set and the build up was more than warranted as the two teams put on a show. Penn righted the ship after a bumpy start to earn its fourth-straight sectional title with a 3-1 win over the Tigers.
The night started much different than it ended with Warsaw bringing all of the hype and then some to the first game. The Kingsmen were put on their heels for the entire game and made several mistakes to help feed the Tigers momentum. Warsaw’s lead grew to as much as seven points before ultimately closing out Penn 25-19.
That energy and momentum carried right over into game two for the Tigers, but Penn refused to let the Tigers earn that second win. The match reached its fever pitch in this game following a 24-24 deadlock. Macy Sherman recorded a thunderous block for the Kingsmen to take a 25-24 lead forcing a time out from Warsaw. Emily Hickey, who had served the last two points for Penn, helped close out the Tigers on her next serve for a 26-24 win.
Penn was just getting started.
Warsaw held a 5-2 lead to start the third set but a a few mental lapses, including a missed serve, left Penn holding a 7-6 lead. The tide was changing and everyone in the gym could feel the shift in momentum. Penn’s mistakes, that were so prevalent early on, dwindled as the Kingsmen’s play kept improving. Warsaw was not making many mistakes, but the few that did happen loomed large. Penn held on for a 25-19 victory in game three.
With the sectional title on the line Penn brought its best effort of the night. The Kingsmen exploded to a 13-2 lead in the fourth game and never looked back en route to a 25-11 win. The team had pulled a complete 180. From a mistaken-littered opener to a practically flawless finale, Penn established itself as the class of its sectional for the fourth year in a row.
“Belief in the push to make good things happen,” stated Penn head coach Lisa Pawlik on what changed for her team. “Our girls believed. It was one of those things where they didn’t want to go home. They wanted to be playing on Monday and what that means is that you have to win on Saturday. That flip just switched for us tonight and we were able to do this as a team.”
“Warsaw is a great team. They made a huge run at this tonight. Credit to (Warsaw) but we were just able to turn it up to another level to pull this win out.”
While Penn (29-5) has to find answers for No. 5 Crown Point in next week’s regional opener at LaPorte, Warsaw was left with questions of what happened Saturday to let the Kingsmen slip away.
“That’s a great question,” admitted Warsaw head coach Chandra Hepler when asked what happened to flip the script against Penn. “I really am kind of puzzled myself as to what happened. It felt like if we would have had that second set that this would have been a very different match. Unfortunately, I think there were a few calls that didn’t go our way, I think our girls got distracted by some of that.
“The belief factor is there for our girls but its one thing saying it and another doing it. That third it was more like watching six individuals on the court instead of a unified team and that’s just not Tiger volleyball.”
Warsaw closes its season with a mark of 22-9. The Tigers are losing an incredible stable of seniors in Sydney Morel, Kendra Love, Elizebeth Schmidt, Kennedy Lauck and the perpetually spirited Betty Barnett. Their coach did not downplay that important role they played in what was a memorable season for the program that included a Northern Lakes Conference title.
“This class will be a big loss,” Hepler explained. “We have five seniors that will be leaving us and I’m talking about five program changers. They have been great leaders and hopefully have left a great example for our underclassmen to come out strong next season.
“This was a pinnacle year for us, a turning point for our program. We’ve had a great season. The sectional would have been icing on the cake.”
Warsaw was led statistically by Barnett’s 15 kills. Five Tigers tied for the team lead with one ace. Avery Hales tallied 38 assists while Abby Sanner led the team with three blocks.
Penn and Crown Point play at noon next Saturday and will play the winner of game one between No. 3 Munster and No. 6 LaPorte.