By Mike Deak
WARSAW – The challenges kept on coming for the Warsaw volleyball program Monday as Homestead descended upon the Tiger Den. After a weekend of battling the state’s best, Homestead threw its hat in the ring for Warsaw to deal with, and the Tigers met the challenge with quite a fervor.
A hot middle of the match stirred the pot as Warsaw barnstormed Homestead in three straight, 25-19, 25-14, 25-23.
As Warsaw proved over the weekend in taking a game from Carmel and nearly grabbing one from Providence in its two duals at Saturday’s Carmel Invite, the Tigers weren’t going to back down from two of the state’s top 10 programs. Homestead, a two-time defending sectional champion in Class 4-A, upped the historical relevance as combined with the two weekend teams, Warsaw was looking at 72 combined sectional titles and a handful of state championships between the three of them.
Warsaw, still working on filling some major graduation voids, may have found some of the key combinations to get its ship galvanized. Net work from Abby Sanner and Alli Heinrich in the first game, as well as some ultra clever ball distribution from Avery Hales had Warsaw withstand Homestead’s early push and claim a 21-16 lead. A Kaylee Weeks kill ended game one, and as Homestead continued to lobby for a tip call it didn’t get a point before, Warsaw was building its case.
A Hales cover pushed game two to 14-4 and five points later Warsaw extended its lead to 17-6, forcing Homestead into its second timeout of the game. The outburst of points in game two showed the maturation Warsaw head coach Chandra Hepler not only sought, but felt her team had well before the run.
“We have five girls on our roster who have never played varsity before, and it’ll take a little time for them to figure things out,” Hepler said. “The veterans we do have coming back have stepped up big time in the past week against some quality teams.”
Homestead looked like it was primed to extend the evening at least another half hour or so, racing out to a 16-7 lead as Warsaw’s offensive execution dipped while Homestead’s defensive grit resurfaced. For the home side, however, Abbie Porter stepped in and converted a pair of huge aces, and a Melania Hawblitzel block rallied Warsaw to even at 16. Homestead would rally to score five of the next seven points, only for Warsaw to creep back into it. Heinrich ripped another kill, Cora West served up an ace, and Hales went over on two to put the Tigers up 24-23.
As had been the case, Hawblitzel stepped up when her number ‘four’ was called and hammered shut the coffin with a kill to end the night, her team-leading 10th kill of the showcase.
“Melaina always does a great job and she’s just getting better by the day,” Hepler said. “We needed some big plays and she made some for us tonight.”
Weeks finished with seven kills as did Hales, a handful of them smart drops into space as Homestead settled into defending someone else. Hales would add 31 helpers, five blocks and four digs.
Cora West had some big moments among her four digs and two aces and Kylie Smith added 15 digs for an improving backline that will need to tighten up as the gauntlet continues on.
“I think confidence right now is the biggest thing for us,” Hepler said. “The girls are starting to play gritty and making smart decisions. I’m teaching them new techniques and they have to trust the process. When it all fits together and they come together, they can be unstoppable.”
Warsaw’s JV won 25-24, 21-25, 15-10. Kenzie Chivington led with 12 kills, 11 digs and three aces and Daiyah Chupp had 31 assists and eight digs.
The Warsaw freshmen won 25-17, 24-25, 15-10 to complete the program sweep. Jillian Glaze had four aces for the Tiger freshmen.