By Mike Deak
WARSAW – It took all of about eight points to see how Thursday night was going to go in the Tiger Den.
The stunned look on the Wawasee volleyball player’s faces after Warsaw erupted for the first eight points of the match in front of a huge student section set the tone for a resounding 25-8, 25-13, 25-12 Tiger win over the Warriors.
“There was no need for a timeout, honestly. Calling it just would have made it worse,” noted Wawasee head coach Jeff Phillips of electing to not stop Warsaw’s opening run. “We came on Tuesday and watched (Warsaw host Fort Wayne Carroll), we knew what they had. They are big, we know who gets fed the ball. (Kaylee) Weeks is tremendous, (Avery) Hales is tremendous. You call timeout there and go, hey, stop playing bad. There’s no strategic adjustment to be made there.”
With a gym full of students, Wawasee with a solid five to six dozen safari-clad supporters in tow and Warsaw rolling over 150 deep on the other side, what was a loud and predictive start of the night quickly went one-sided to the hosts after Abby Sanner had a kill and a block among the quick burst from the gate. The lead jumped to 16-4 fueled by a trio of kills from Alli Herdrich, who finished a couple of her kills with a surprised look of accomplishment written all over her face.
“We’re only as strong as our weakest link, and we need everyone to be ready to play at a high level,” said Warsaw head coach Chandra Hepler. “This year, our program we’ve created is a family, and the kids really believe in each other. You see it whether its Abby Sanner or Avery Hales or Alli Herdrich or Kylie Smith. They believe in each other, and it shows with all of our girls. They all pick each other up.”
Both of the second and third games were much of the same, Warsaw taking a 14-4 lead in the second as Kaylee Weeks got her arm warmed up for the kill shots. Weeks would finish with 12 kills, and did so with a smart set of made decisions on placement, getting around the Wawasee block both down line and cross court.
Leah Henderson added a pair of kills in the game, and mixed with a showcase of debilitating serves from the likes of Smith (3 aces) and Avery Hales (2 ace), it was just too much Warsaw.
“Sometimes we are great at serve receive, sometimes we are bad, that’s been a whole season thing for us,” Phillips said. “That’s been one of those things in situations against bigger teams, we either pass well or it gets ugly real fast. It’s an issue, something we’re going to have to work on the next couple weeks. That’s the skill we’re going to have to train the most if we want to achieve any of the goals we want this season.”
Melaina Hawblitzel added six kills, Smith 12 digs and Hales 28 assists for the Tigers (15-10, 5-0 NLC).
Wawasee (16-3) had very little go its way. Now sitting at 1-3 in the NLC, Phillips’ focus is now squarely on rebuilding momentum and aiming for teams they will see in tournament, particularly one situated about 15 miles to the west of campus.
“We’ve had NorthWood on our board the whole year, they are the only team I care about at this point,” Phillips shared. “They know that, I’m sure Hilary (Laidig, NorthWood head coach) knows that, it’s no secret. Our goal is to play them three times in the next three weeks.”
Leslie Vazquez had six kills and a pair of aces, Amanda Allen 17 assists and Liz Miller four digs for the Warriors.
For Warsaw (15-10, 5-0 NLC), the Tigers have won 12 of its last 14 matches and finish a perfect 7-0 at home. Hepler said having the rowdy home crowd certainly helped, but also pointed to her team’s cohesion being as strong as its been all season.
“If you look at our record, you wouldn’t think we are a polished team, but if you look at who we’ve played, you would understand why we are playing as well as we are right now,” Hepler said. “Being undefeated on our home court was big, says a lot about our girls and them buying into the process.”
The JV contest went to Warsaw in a 25-21, 25-14 final. Jael Namfukwe paced Warsaw with nine digs and six kills and Daihya Chupp added 22 assists. Wawasee had Julie Mishler tally four kills and four digs.
The freshman matchup also went to Warsaw in a 25-11, 25-13 final. Maggie Hollon led Warsaw with nine kills and two aces. The Warriors had Abby Dusek register two aces and two assists.