By KEVIN HARRIS
All season, Providence volleyball coach Terri Purichia has wanted her team to have tunnel vision.
In other words, the veteran Pioneers’ mentor is looking for her players to be totally focused when the match starts and not be concerned about their surroundings.
Providence will need plenty of tunnel vision on Saturday when it competes at the Class 2A Forest Park Semi-state. The Class 2A No. 2 Pioneers (33-4) are one of three ranked teams playing in the semi-state. The other two are No. 4 Eastern Greene (35-2) and No. 10 Indianapolis Ritter (26-9).
Those three teams competed in last year’s semi-state. The Pioneers lost to eventual state runner-up Eastern Greene in the semifinals, 26-24, 25-11, 22-25, 25-22. The Thunderbirds then held off Ritter in a dramatic semi-state championship match, 25-14, 22-25, 25-20, 9-25, 15-12.
Providence will kick off the semi-state on Saturday with an 11 a.m. semifinal with Eastern Hancock (28-9). Then 30 minutes following the first match, Eastern Greene and Ritter will have a rematch in the second semi.
Purichia states that the Pioneers must be mentally focused if they are to take home their first semi-state title since 1986.
“For us to be successful Saturday, we have to play every point like it is match point. We have to serve the ball as aggressively as we can and keep the other team out of its system,” she said. “We have to have tunnel vision and worry only about the next point and not the last point. Saturday will be a great deal of pressure for all four teams because there is a trip to the state finals at the end of the tunnel, so the team that can handle that pressure and still do the great things that got them to this point will be the semi-state champion.”
Along with their tunnel vision, Purichia thinks her players must play with a great deal of poise to reach the Class 2A state championship match a week from Saturday at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
“We are as capable of winning this semi-state as any team there Saturday,” Purichia said. “But the name of the game is composure, and the team that can put the distractions and the hoopla out of their head, and play volleyball the way they are capable of playing it will ultimately be the team going to the state finals next Saturday.
“I have a team of players and coaches who have dreamed of this opportunity for a long time. We are not going to go down without the fight of our lives, and we are more than prepared to do that.”
In order for the Pioneers face a possible showdown with Eastern Greene or Ritter in the semi-state final, they must get past Eastern Hancock first. The Royals won their first-ever regional title on Tuesday, winning at Heritage Christian 25-22, 25-22, 25-18. Leading Eastern Hancock are senior Frannie Stephenson, sophomore Melissa Bedell and senior setter Jordian Eastes.
“They are a very solid team full of seniors,” Purichia said. “They have two very effective offensive players in [Stephenson] and [Bedell], who is a left-handed player. Their setter is a very good player and serves very well. They are a very scrappy defensive team, and they are not the type of team to let the ball drop.”
If Providence reaches the championship match, it will have its hands full against Eastern Greene or Ritter.
Seniors Scottie Ingram and Casie Divine lead the Thunderbirds’ attack. Ingram ranks second in the state in kills with 610, while Divine has 424 kills this year.
Purichia says Ritter lost several seniors from last year’s squad, but says the Raiders’ defense is solid.
The Providence coach expects a competitive second semifinal.
“Greene has their key players back from last season. Although Ritter graduated some key players, they have a very good team this year and are quite a threat to do any of us some damage,” Purichia said. “I think it will be a repeat five-game thriller like last season, and I am looking forward to seeing that match. Greene has Ingram and Divine back. They are both seniors and both are two of the best offensive players in the state in any class. But Ritter has a great defense, so it will be an awesome battle I am sure.”
The Pioneers advanced to the semi-state on Tuesday night by cruising past Southwestern in the Class 2A regional at the Larkin Center, 25-8, 25-12, 25-20.
Purichia lauded her players for being ready to go right from the outset.
“Tuesday night I was most impressed with my team’s ability to start the match with a great deal of intensity,” Purichia said. “We came out of the gate smoking hot, and didn’t allow Southwestern to have a chance to settle into the match. I believe we maintained that pressure through the second set, and let up on the gas in the third.”
CLASS 2A FOREST PARK SEMI-STATE
• 11 a.m. — Providence (33-4) vs. Eastern Hancock (28-9)
• 1 p.m. — Eastern Greene (35-2) vs. Indianapolis Ritter (26-9)
• 7 p.m. — Semifinal winners
PROVIDENCE STAT LEADERS
• ASSISTS: Patricia Mattingly 923 (averages 25 per match).
• BLOCKS: Taylor Wilson 158, Haley Libs 49, Jacquie Hornung 44.
• DIGS: Kylie Flanagan 298 (average eight per match).
• KILLS: Wilson 397, Libs 312, Hornung 177, Mattingly 128.