By Gregg A. Sims
MUNCIE — Loogootee brought a shovel, but it wasn’t quite large enough for the Class A state volleyball championship match at Ball State University Saturday.
Cowan started quickly, winning the first two sets by identical 25-17 margins, and then survived a furious Lion comeback for a 25-17, 25-17,14-24, 21-25, 15-13, victory for its first state title.
“Getting down the first two sets — it is hard to come back, but I told the girls — there was an inspirational speaker at the banquet last night that talked about a team that called itself the comeback kids, and I said let’s be that team today,” Loogootee coach Lacey Wade said. “They fought with everything they had.”
The marathon match, lasting 2:20, may have been best exemplified by a final fifth set which saw both teams lead before the Blackhawks finally prevailed.
Cowan led the final set, 5-2, before the Lions broke away from a seven all tie to take an 11-8 lead.
But Cowan broke what had been a four-one run with a six-point run of its own behind the serves of Madisen Mangus for a 14-11 lead.
The Lions made one final rally, scoring two points on a wide kill from Blackhawk Kristina Flowers and a ball into the net by Mallory Bruner, who later won the Class A Mental Attitude Award.
But Cowan’s Audrey Jones got the final point with a spike into the middle of the Loogootee defense to cement the first Cowan state championship after finishing second twice and making its eighth championship appearance.
“On three points of serve receive we couldn’t get a pass where we needed it to put the ball away,” Wade said of Cowan’s fifth-set run. “When you’re playing a good team, it’s hard to dig yourself out of it.”
The first two sets were near mirror images as Cowan (27-10) opened early leads.
Cowan led 7-3, 15-6 and 17-8 in the opening set.
The Blackhawks led the second set 10-4, 13-6 and 19-12.
Serving had played a key role in the opening two sets, and it would be just as important to the Lion comeback.
Both teams kept pressure on the other with serves that made setting an offense difficult.
“We knew coming in that Cowan was a good serving team, but we are ourselves,” Wade said. “That’s what we told the girls in the first two games, that we weren’t coming out aggressively and they knew they could. There some jitters going on, but once they found confidence in themselves they could get aggressive. We started serving the ball better, hitting the ball better and got some confidence in ourselves.”
And that’s when the momentum changed.
Demi Richardson served the opening seven points in the third set for Loogootee (34-5), and the Lions added eight of the next 12 points for a 15-5 lead.
Loogootee stretched its advantage to 22-9 before finishing with a 25-14 victory.
The fourth set was the first that either team came from behind for a win.
Cowan won four of the first five points before Loogootee tied the set at seven. The set was again tied at 10, 11, 16 and 18.
Loogootee took a 21-18 lead before Cowan responded with the next three points for a tie at 21.
But the Lions got the final four points to tie the match at two sets with a 25-21 fourth-set win.
“I think it was a bit of both (jitters and Cowan’s serving),” Wade said of the first two sets.
“This was a new place, different lighting — not trying to put excuses on anything — but none of the girls had been here before and they are young. We have a very young team (Remington Wagler is the lone senior), and jitters will play a role, but the way they came at us in the beginning had an effect as well.”
Strangely enough, there were only 15 ties in the five-set match and eight lead changes.
Michala Beasley and Christina Ziegler led the Lions with 20 kills each. Abby Ackerman had 12. Richardson added to her assist records at Loogootee with 50.
Ackerman had 19 digs, while Richardson and Beasley had 16 each, Wagler 13 and Kailye Robbins 12.
“Beasley was very effective today,” Wade said. “We put the ball in her hands and she played very well. She knew the time to hit the ball very hard, and the time to find a place to put the ball as well.”
“Once Abby found her groove — hitting wise — she was on and once she found her groove in the back row, she definitely stepped up in the fifth game.”
Cowan was paced by Bruner’s 14 kills. Kristina Flowers had 13, and Kyanna Stewart and Jessica Mace had 11 apiece.
Mangus had 55 assists Valorie Flick had 26 digs for Cowan. Mace added 21, Mangus 11 and Kellsie Mace had 10.
The Lions, who set a single season record for wins with 34, recorded its fourth second place finish in a Class A championship match. Loogootee placed second in consecutive years from 2005 to 2007, with loses coming to Michigan City Marquette the first two seasons and Marquette Catholic in 2007. The Lions have now made five state championship appearances.
The teams entered the championship having not los a set since the regional.
Loogootee lost one set in the Loogootee sectional championship to Barr-Reeve.
Cowan went to five sets inthe Cowan sectional championship against Wes Del.
“I can’t really say I’m disappointed,” Wade said. “I have a heavy heart just like the girls do, but to have a team come back the way they did — they could have laid over — and give everything they had to give. I told them in the lockerroom to hold their heads high. They have everything to be proud of. They left everything out on the court, and that’s what we asked of them.”