WOLCOTT — Fight.
North White walked into the gym at Tri-County ready for one against Midwest Conference foe South Newton. The Vikings easily dispatched the host school during the Tri-County Sectional semifinal Saturday morning, and were ready for the perennial league and sectional power.
The Rebels twice beat the Vikings during the season: A 2-0 win in a tournament during the season’s first weekend, then a 3-1 victory in Monon on Sept. 30. In that loss, North White earned a first-set win (25-22) before falling.
Despite the grandest of plans, and an air of determination, from the Vikings, their foe again claimed victory — a 22-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-23 score which earned South Newton the trophy. The way the match played out — a Vikings set win, followed by the Rebels going for three — was eerily similar to the Sept. 30 match, complete with same-set scores in the first and fourth sets and 25-22 set wins for both schools.
“We just — we wanted to keep practing and go on to next week,” senior defensive specialist Emily Phelps said. “That’s what we were all thinking. We had to finish that game first, and we tried our hardest.”
Added libero Caitlyn Conn, “We were hoping for five. We knew it would be a good game, but we were hoping for five.”
North White (16-14) nearly got there. The Vikings pulled ahead early at 5-3 in the fourth, then a Kinsey Westerhouse kill gave them a 10-5 advantage. The lead grew to six points three times, at 17-11, 19-13 and 22-16. A fifth set was on the precipe, three points away.
Then things unfolded as if it were a bad horror movie.
South Newton pulled within 23-22 on a Samantha Warren kill, then used a Lexi Cripe spike to knot the set. Disaster continued — North White, as it had all night, elongated the next two volleys, but made two unforced errors to end the set, and match. In total South Newton ended the match on a 9-1 scoring run, including a four-point spurt at the very end.
“That close,” to forcing a fifth set, lamented head coach Teresa McIntire. “We did what we had to do, and we were just a little bit short.”
“A lot of positives — we did exactly our gameplan, we did everything we could do. Just some crucial mistakes here and there.”
McIntire also spent the bulk of the run attempting to talk her team out of its late struggles from the sideline. She burned both her timeouts earlier in the set as the Rebels cut into deficits, which she noted was part of her strategy and something she did each set. To wit, South Newton went ahead 4-0 in the third set and McIntire was out on the floor before the official could complete his official timeout signal.
“My philosophy is you have to stop it early,” she said. “If they get a good lead, like 4-0 or whatever, I have to call timeout. A lot of times, it stops their serve, or we majority of the time get the (next) point.
“Once that happens (and) we run out of timeouts, there is not much we can do after that.”
Like the Sept. 30 match the Vikings came out with an all-out attack mindset Saturday, and raced out to a 6-2 lead. Later, a Lauren Annis kill put them ahead 11-6, and it grew to 19-10 before a hiccup thinned the Rebels’ margin to 19-15, then later 23-20. An Annis kill put them at set point, and it ended with a hitting error two points later to give North White a 1-0 lead.
North White led the second set, 12-5, before South Newton roared back. It trailed 12-10 after a run, tied the contest at 14-all and 16-all and then pulled ahead 19-17 on a quick two-point push. Later, Lynzi Heimlich’s kill pulled the Vikings within 23-21, and the squad got one point closer. But the Rebels ended on a brief run to tie the set at 1-1, then rolled to decent third-set lead off the whistle.
South Newton led 4-0, then maintained that point range and as the first to 20 points at 20-14.
McIntire’s club staved off elimination for four points, but a hitting error ended that threat and gave South Newton the swing set.
“I’m just really proud of the kids, the way we played,” McIntire said. “We dug a lot of balls, did a lot of hustle plays. We did what we had to do. We just came up short.”
Hustle was the key all night, even when the entirety of the match was packed into two hours. North White collected 86 digs — South Newton had 96 — and the teams combined for 21 blocks. The clubs continually turned in long volleys, even with 93 total kills and 23 aces. Conn and the back row’s strategy was to angle digs and passes instead of picking balls up from a normal base position.
“Just understanding where the hits are coming from, where we need to be going,” Conn said of the reasoning.
She garnered a match and season-best 36 digs, her third 30-plus dig match of the season. Heimlich added 13, Phelps accumulated 10 and at least four players had five or more digs.
“Caitlyn, (the back row), we adjusted with their hits,” Phelps said.
McIntire mentioned a lack of experience in the back row as the season opened, and noted how much it improved from start to finish.
“We did serve-receive almost every single day, and we got balls hit at us really hard,” Phelps said, almost wincing at the thought. “That’s what makes you better — the harder the hits, the better you’ll get.”
She added the squad saw improvement from a handful of freshmen and sophomores who moved into the rotation. Freshman Abigail Sprye was good for at least one ace a match in the last five matches, classmate Taylor Van Winkle closed the season with eight kills in the sectional tournament, and sophomore Lauren Annis — well, Phelps said it best: “A lot of these girls came in clutch, especially Lauren Annis.”
Annis compiled a line of seven kills and eight digs against the Rebels, and picked up 13 kills and 10 digs during Saturdy’s two-match action. She ended the season with 25 kills and 28 digs.
Another switch seemingly flipped was Westerhouse’s. The junior outside hitter is no stranger to North White’s offense by any means, but ratcheted her game up midway through the second set. She collected 12 kills — her first time in double digits since an Oct. 12 match — and a season-best two blocks.
“I think the Tri-County game ... helped her confidence especially,” McIntire said of Westerhouse. “With her, that’s what it is.
“It’s all about confidence. … We see what she can do, it’s just her belieiving she can do it. This match, she believed she could do it, and she did. That’s what we need to have next year coming in.”
Heimlich led the way with 13 kills, 13 digs, 17 assists and 10 blocks, while Phelps’ two aces were one-fourth of the team’s eight. Senior Marissa Benitez had 10 assists and an ace in her final match, while classmate Emilia Valdizon added five assists, four digs and an ace
The Vikings rolled Tri-County, 25-9, 25-8, 25-7, in the morning semifinal. Heimlich had 23 kills, Benitez and Phelps each had four aces and Benitez added 28 assists. The Cavaliers ended the season 1-22.