BACK TO SCHOOL, BACK TO BUSINESS
Ink Free News / Sports on Wednesday, August 19, 2020
By Mike Deak
WARSAW – There were all sorts of new ways of life going on in the Tiger Den Tuesday evening. The Chandra Hepler ‘home debut’ was among them.
Following the first day of classes and a load of optimism in returning to campus, the Warsaw volleyball program took center stage Tuesday evening and hung a 3-1 win over Class 3-A No. 9 Fort Wayne Concordia. It marked the home head coaching debut for Hepler, who spent several years as an assistant at Warsaw before leading the team into action last weekend at the Crown Point Invitational.
With names taped all over the bleachers from orientation earlier in the day, and athletic director Matt Binkerd scurrying around the Den trying to get everyone arm’s length apart, it became evident sports would look a little different this fall. Neither team changed benches, and seats were spaced every other spot like a youth league soccer photo. But what hadn’t changed from the volleyball perspective, at least in Warsaw’s case, was its trademark play in piecing together a very solid early season win.
A 25-17 first set had Warsaw race out to a six-point lead, then build a 17-7 advantage without much flare. Finally getting a huge hammer from Betty Barnett, the energy level did raise a bit.
Game two was much closer, seeing Warsaw carry just a 10-9 lead. The Tigers would then go on its biggest run of the night, a 9-1 blitz, aided by a kill and block from Kennedy Lauck. Two kills in the final three points from Barnett put Warsaw in command at 25-18 and a two-set lead.
“For us right now, it’s chemistry,” stated Hepler, who is adjusting a lineup which was missing middle Abby Sanner and outside hitter Katie McKibbin to injuries and just getting a hobbled Barnett back in the lineup. “We have had a lot of girls step up and take on roles they wouldn’t normally have. And we know that is harder chemistry-wise because it takes a little longer to get into rhythm. We saw the girls chip away tonight rather than take on a lot of long runs.”
Concordia, a 16-time sectional champion, showed they weren’t ranked No. 9 for no good reason. Aniya Martin and Taylor Hepburn fired the Cadets right back into the match with a pair of kills each in a 25-20 Concordia third to extend the match.
It wasn’t a major string of momentum, but a mini 4-0 run to get the score to 12-8 Warsaw in the fourth was the breathing room the Tigers needed to ensure its closure of the match. An Alli Heinrich kill put Warsaw up 20-15, and two more plays from Lauck, the first a huge smash up the gut and then a block on match point closed out a 25-19 capper.
While Barnett’s 14 kills and Lauck’s 10 kills and four blocks were vital, it was quiet performances that also made a huge difference. Liz Schmidt quietly had 13 digs off the back line, Cora West offered six digs and opened with four service points in the fourth set to end Concordia’s game three momentum, and Kylie Smith led the defense with 16 digs and a knee to the head from a teammate during a scurry after an errant ball.
Kendra Love added 12 digs and two aces, Melaina Hawblitzel provided 11 kills, six digs and a block and Avery Hales was a monster in distribution, firing up 51 assists to go with 10 digs and three kills.
“I honestly feel like we have one of the top back lines in the state,” Hepler said. “Our girls are always in position and they are full of grit, they play with a ton of heart. They were determined they weren’t going to let anything hit the floor, and we saw that quite a bit tonight. We really are deep as far as our defense goes.”
In the junior circuits, the JV match went to Concordia 11-25, 26-24, 15-10. Pacing Warsaw were Hawblitzel with five kills, Clara Porter with 20 assists and six digs, and Madi Desenberg with five aces.
The Warsaw freshmen went the distance with Concordia, pulling out the win 25-17, 11-25, 15-11. Stat leaders for the Tigers included Ava Wetzel with five kills, Megan Silveus with 12 digs, Sadie Humbarger with five aces and Claire Reichenbach with 15 assists.