Panthers Advance To Semi-Final
LIGONIER – It was the end of the road for the Tippecanoe Valley volleyball team Thursday night.
The Vikings came out with a ton of energy for their sectional quarterfinal matchup with NorthWood at West Noble High School, but it was an energy that they failed to sustain over the complete match. The Panthers were able to play more consistent volleyball throughout the evening and would leave with a 3-1 victory.
“I think our girls just needed to survive tonight,” began NorthWood head coach Hillary Laidig. “We survived after losing that first game, survived to win the second game and I think that gave us the confidence we needed to win in games three and four.”
Valley was electric in the first game, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. The Vikings were able to maintain a high level of energy and play through that first game to win 25-13.
NorthWood responded in the second game and looked to be cruising to an easy win before Valley fought back. The Panthers watched a 20-12 lead shrink to 20-19 in the blink of an eye. The Vikings pushed NorthWood as far as 24-23 before falling 25-23.
The energy used to come back in that second game appeared to physically and emotionally drained the young Valley squad. NorthWood closed out the Vikings 25-20 and 25-10 in the next two games.
“The struggle this year has been focus,” Mallory Eaton, Valley’s head coach stated. “It’s easy to win games when you’re all jacked up and things are going your way but it’s difficult to maintain that energy. I told the girls that during warmups. I asked them what they would do once that adrenaline was gone.
“Fatigue had a big factor on us tonight as those games wore on. With fatigue comes mental errors, technical errors. We just need to work on ways to maintain our energy and level of play.”
Mental errors were a big factor for both teams all night, but it was NorthWood that was able to right the ship faster. The Panthers will have to clean up those mistakes as they prepare to play 11-time defending sectional champion Fairfield Saturday morning in semi-final action in a rematch of the last year’s sectional championship.
“We need to come out from the beginning of the game and serve and pass really well,” Laidig said of her team’s upcoming contest. “We gave a lot of points away today. I think the team that serves and passes better Saturday will be the team that wins. Both teams have very good offenses so that serving and passing is really going to come into play.”
Valley, which closes the season at 18-14, will have plenty to build on going into next season with a large crop of young players returning. Unfortunately, that sentiment doesn’t do much for the sting of a sectional loss.
“I’m heartbroken,” remarked Eaton. “It hurts because we thought we were going to do so much more. My seniors are there in tears, I told the underclassmen that it could be them next year or in a few years. This is the worst feeling to look back on. Now they know they have to do more in this situation next year.
“Our future is bright, but I try really hard not to look forward too much because I don’t want to take anything away from these seniors.”
Statistically, Valley was led 15 kills from Abby Betten, 11 digs from Sophie Bussard, 30 assists from Maddy Henninger and three aces from Lexi O’Connell.