(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY STEVE PAGE)
Two different girls’ high school volleyball teams – 4A Roncalli and 1A Greenwood Christian Academy – made the 110-mile journey to scenic southern Indiana with the same goal Saturday: win their IHSAA Jasper Semistate match and advance to the state championships.
In familiar territory, Roncalli was on a path to a fourth championship run to go with 31 sectional and 14 regional titles. However, GCA entered totally unfamiliar territory of the Final Four after winning its second sectional and first regional trophies in a statement season.
The Royals and Cougars showed their grit Saturday but came away disappointed as No. 5 Castle (34-3) defeated No. 4 Roncalli 3-1 (26-24, 25-15, 23-25, 25-14) and No. 1 Tecumseh swept No. 12 GCA 3-0 (25-11, 25-19, 25-15).
Afterward, each coach – Roncalli veteran Christina Erazmus and second-year GCA coach Grace Woolsey – focused on their seniors and the future.
Roncalli graduates five seniors from its 30-4 team, including libero Aly Kirkhoff, defensive specialists Katie Smith, Aubrey Silcox, and Ella Guilfoy, and setter Gabby Scheil.
“Our seniors showed their positivity, love for their teammates, and hard work every day on and off the court,” coach Erazmus praised. “They made our entire team better. We’re really a young team and these girls learned a lot from our seniors, and I’m looking forward to bringing back our returning players. They know how much this stings and, I hope, they never want to feel this way again.”
GCA also graduates five seniors from the Cougars’ first Final Four team (24-14) that went undefeated against 1A teams this season until running into the top-ranked Braves (32-4). Cougar seniors are setter Savannah Danielson, middle blocker Hannah Swatts, outside hitter Milana Schundelmier and defensive specialists Ellie Sloan and Naomi Hillenburg.
“First, I’m very proud of this team,” GCA coach Woolsey said. “Our seniors have been consistently present in leading this team in only ways I could hope for. Living up to their potential that we saw last year was an amazing thing to watch. Semistate is achievable; it had never been done before. We want back here again.”
Castle ended Roncalli’s 12-match winning streak with aggressive blocks at the net and exceptional back-row quickness.
“We struggled from the very beginning,” Erazmus observed. “Castle is a big, tall, physical team that came out blocking us. We were giving it great swings and they were picking them up. We were having to go at it again and again. We had not seen big blocks like that all season long. They disrupted us.”
The Royals trailed in the first set 23-17 before charging to a 24-24 deadlock bolstered by two dynamic kills by Logan Bell and a kill and big block by Mackenzie Kruer. The Knights then put the first set away on a Royals out-of-bounds hit and Emma Bruggenschmidt’s service ace.
In the second set, Roncalli led 8-5 but Castle surged to a commanding 15-11 lead and a 10-point win.
Showing their determination, the Royals recovered and played one of their best sets of the season for a hard-fought two-point win. The Royals trailed 13-9 before exploding for a permanent 18-17 lead on Kruer’s block. The Royals iced the set with back-to-back kills by Bell.
“It was do or die so we had to show up in that third set,” Erazmus emphasized. “Castle had won the first two sets, so they felt more comfortable and kept us on our heels in the fourth set. We had to stand tight and play crisp, and we just didn’t unfortunately.”
Bell, who always was on the attack, wound up with 19 kills with sophomore Lydia Stahley adding eight kills, and setter Addie Haberthy with several tip kills.
Castle’s 5-10 senior outside hitter also racked up 19 kills and 6-2 junior Addison Gallentine had 13 blocks.
GCA’s slow start proved costly in the first set. The Cougars never led and trailed early 11-4 when a return serve fell between two players.
The Cougars showed their mettle in the second set by forging an 18-18 tie before the Braves closed on a 7-1 run.
GCA junior Faith Kresge unofficially had six kills with classmate Addison Yoder adding three kills and a block and Schundelmier getting three blocks.
“In that first set, I think they were taking everything in; the first time at semistate, but once we gathered ourselves, we were able to come out like we had done in any other tough competitive game,” GCA coach Woolsey observed. “We had played against taller teams, so height (Tecumseh) wasn’t the problem. This was the toughest 1A team we faced and we had been unbeaten against 1A teams.
“They had their runs and we tried to answer back,” Woolsey said. “I first wanted to get a handle on getting their heads in the right place – we had earned our spot in the Final Four and this wasn’t too big for us. The first set didn’t go the way we had hoped.”
The Cougars fielded a squad with five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and one freshman as GCA continues to build a solid foundation.
(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY STEVE PAGE)