TIGERS READY TO REWRITE HISTORY
StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Thursday, October 18, 2018
WARSAW – Kacy Bragg sounded like she had been there before. But she hadn’t.
None of the girls on the Warsaw volleyball team had ever felt the joy of winning a sectional title. In fact, most of them likely couldn’t remember a time when Warsaw had, because the seniors on the squad that won the Elkhart Memorial Volleyball Sectional last weekend weren’t in kindergarten yet.
“I think we are so capable,” Bragg said. “We just have to continue what we were doing sectional week. That was one of our best weeks of practices. If we can work hard in practice, we can duplicate this. We just have to do the simple things, not get caught up trying to do fancy stuff.”
It was a time of celebration and unwinding for a Warsaw team that went through a gauntlet to get to its first sectional title since 2004. Playing a monstrous regular season schedule that included five teams that have reached the regional round, plus other mega programs like Carmel, Mishawaka Marian and Homestead, Warsaw has been through the battles including two on championship Saturday against Memorial and Northridge. Two of those current regional teams are in the pod at LaPorte in Michigan City and Penn, the Wolves first up for the Tigers in the morning semi-final game Saturday, an 11 a.m. (EST) first serve.
Warsaw and Michigan City battled in the championship of City’s home invite, the Wolves a 2-1 winner with a 15-13 third set. Statistically, the two teams are pretty similar with matching 29-7 records and have a lot of contributors to their successes. City has Reece Shively and Emily Kinney involved in much of its activity. Shively leads the team with 293 kills and 330 digs, while Kinney has a team-leading 30 blocks to go with 186 kills and 198 digs. Kasey Halfacre and Micah Ruhe have been solid on defense with 313 and 237 digs, respectively, and Hannah Noveroske has pounded 171 kills and Alexa Sparks sent over 55 aces, one of seven Wolves with at least 20 aces.
Warsaw has its fair share of stat stuffers. Bragg, one of the senior captains, has been in the middle of everything for the Tigers, leading the team with a whopping 862 assists, which puts her among the top 40 setters in the state. Bragg also has 169 digs, 134 kills and 74 aces, showing her versatility on the court. With so many chances, Warsaw needs people to hammer down, and have it in sophomore Betty Barnett and her team-leading 300 kills, with sophomore Kennedy Lauck’s 210 kills and senior Katie Swanson’s 196 kills, Swanson the go-to swinger in the championship match against Northridge.
“This week is going to be hardcore serious, getting prepped for the regional,” Swanson said. “Warsaw is ready to win a regional, all of our heads are in the game. We’re all in.”
Warsaw’s defense has been improving throughout, led by a pair of freshmen in Kylie Smith and Cora West, sophomore Elizabeth Schmidt and senior Erin Peugh. Smith leads the team with 344 digs, and West has shown the ability to also hit off the left side, giving Warsaw yet another option on both lines.
“You really can’t take things for granted,” West said. “The seniors on this team are ready to take that next step, and we have to be a team to make that happen. My role is whatever the team needs. I’ve been an outside my whole life, but if coach (Rick Ashmore) needs me to play back row, OK.”
On the other side of the LaPorte pod are Penn (31-5) and Munster (32-4), which play in game two. Penn is one of the regional opponents that Warsaw saw, a 3-0 Penn winner at the Tiger Den in early September. The Kingsmen are led by the attacking duo of Alyssa Torres and Bella Phillips, who have 563 kills between them. Don’t hit it to freshman Emma Hickey, who has a whopping 475 digs. Munster goes when Madison Horin goes, leading the team with 296 kills.
The winners come back to play at 7 p.m. (EST) for the regional championship. All four are looking to end droughts, Warsaw not having won a regional title since 1996, where it won its fourth regional in five years. Michigan City has won three regionals, but not since 2001, Munster has six but none since 2013, and Penn the boss with eight titles, but the seniors on the roster haven’t seen a title, the last in 2013.
The semi-state will take place at either Plymouth or Frankfort on Oct. 27, where the LaPorte winner will meet the winner from Noblesville. That field includes No. 1 Yorktown (31-0), No. 6 Fort Wayne Carroll (28-5), No. 8 Fishers (24-4) and Zionsville (22-7).