By KEVIN HARRIS
The Providence volleyball team had one thing on its mind during the Class 2A Forest Park Semi-state championship match on Saturday night — revenge.
The Class 2A No. 2 Pioneers got it in a major way.
One year after losing to Eastern Greene in four sets in the semi-state semifinal, Providence paid back the fourth-ranked Thunderbirds in Saturday’s final, 25-18, 25-20, 25-16. The Pioneers (35-4) will play defending Class 2A state champion and top-ranked Wapahani (34-4) in the 2A state championship match at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
Providence will be making its first appearance in a state championship match. The Pioneers won their first semi-state since 1986 and earned their sixth berth in the IHSAA State Finals. Their last state finals appearance was in 2002 as a Class 3A school.
“We’re so excited. To play in the state championship game, it is the best feeling in the world,” Providence coach Terri Purichia said. “We’ve been counting down the steps one at a time to get to this point.”
All season, the Pioneers’ thoughts were on avenging last year’s loss to Eastern Greene, which finished as the state runner-up in the 2011 Class 2A state tournament. Providence setter Patricia Mattingly remembered vividly the sorrow in the Pioneers’ locker room afterwards.
“It was the worst feeling in the world in that locker room to see the seniors crying. That feeling was awful,” Mattingly said.
During last year’s post-match speech in the locker room, Pioneer outside hitter Taylor Wilson stated that she and her teammates would contain Thunderbird standout Scottie Ingram if there was a rematch.
Wilson repeated that statement to her coach prior to Saturday’s title match.
“Last year, I promised the seniors and my entire team that Scottie was not going to get a ball past us,” Wilson said. “I told Coach Purichia that before the match tonight.”
Wilson showed her determination in her statistics line with 13 kills and seven blocks. Teammate Haley Libs recorded a team-high 14 kills, while Mattingly made 32 assists, 18 digs and three service aces. Also for Providence, libero Kylie Flanagan made 14 digs, Abby Spitznagel had 11 digs and four aces and freshman Jacquie Hornung smacked six kills.
Purichia felt her team’s serving was the difference in taking the semi-state trophy back to Clarksville.
“We could not allow Ingram and [Eastern Greene’s] Casie Divine to hit a ball off of serve-receive,” Purichia said. “I told my players to get back there and make a serve that that they don’t get back to us.”
Providence led for most of the first set. The Pioneers closed the opening game with four consecutive points thanks to two Wilson kills, a Mattingly block and a Spitznagel ace.
The Providence momentum carried over into the second set. The Pioneers scored the first four points, with three of them coming off Spitznagel aces, and were up 23-14 late in the second.
The Thunderbirds (36-3) scored five consecutive points to get within 23-19, but could not pull any closer.
Eastern Greene showed signs of life at the start of set three, scoring the first five points. That prompted Purichia to call a timeout.
“I told [the Pioneers] there is no way that team is going away without a fight,” Purichia said.
The Providence players responded by going on a 17-7 spurt to take a five-point lead and never looked back. Flanagan, the Pioneers’ lone senior, sealed match point with an ace and ignited a raucous celebration by the Providence faithful.
Entering the match, Purichia was prepared for a fierce five-set match. Fortunately for the Pioneers, that did not happen.
“We expected it to absolutely go five,” Purichia said. “We have a great deal of respect for Eastern Greene. They have two of the best players in the state in Scottie and Casie.”
But Mattingly thought otherwise.
“It doesn’t surprise me it went three because we’ve been working for this moment,” she said.
Divine wound up with 14 kills, while Ingram spiked 11.
After allowing Eastern Hancock to make a late rally to win the second set, Providence dominated the final two games and defeated the Royals in Saturday’s first semifinal, 25-19, 24-26, 25-13, 25-8.
Trailing 23-19 in the second, Eastern Hancock (28-10) scored seven of the set’s final eight points to even the match at one game apiece. Dropping the set prompted Purichia to have a heart-to-heart talk with her players before the third set.
“I just said, ‘This is not what you came to do. You have no intensity,’” Purichia said. “We were getting in our own way.”
It was a totally different Pioneers’ team after the brief meeting with Purichia. Leading 8-7 in set three, Providence went on a 16-5 run to build a 12-point advantage. Then in the fourth game, the Pioneers bolted out to an 18-4 lead and never looked back.
“I felt we picked it up on the serving end,” Purichia said. “Abby Spitznagel came in and served with so much power. The name of the game is serving. We had too many errors in the first two sets, but they finally settled down.”
Libs led the Providence attack with 18 kills, while Wilson had 17 kills and six blocks. Hornung chipped in 10 kills. Mattingly dished out 41 assists, made 14 digs and had three service aces. Flanagan made 16 digs and Providence’s Malie Daniel had eight blocks.
CLASS 2A FOREST PARK SEMI-STATE
E. HANCOCK 19 26 13 8
PROVIDENCE 25 24 25 25
Aces — Eastern Hancock: Hannah Best 2; Providence: Patricia Mattingly 3, Taylor Wilson 2, Haley Libs 2, Abby Spitznagel 2.
Assists — Providence: Mattingly 41.
Blocks — Eastern Hancock: Frannie Stephenson 3; Providence: Malie Daniel 8, Wilson 6.
Digs — Providence: Kylie Flanagan 16, Mattingly 14.
Kills — Eastern Hancock: Stephenson 12, Missy Bedell 6, Lauren Harmon 6; Providence: Libs 18, Wilson 17, Jacquie Hornung 10.
PROVIDENCE 25 25 25
EASTERN GREENE 18 20 16
Aces — Providence: Spitznagel 4, Mattingly 3; Eastern Greene: Darci Abell 1.
Assists — Providence: Mattingly 32.
Blocks — Providence: Wilson 7; Eastern Greene: Casie Divine 2.
Digs — Providence: Mattingly 18, Flanagan 14, Spitznagel 11.
Kills — Providence: Libs 14, Wilson 13, Hornung 6; Eastern Greene: Divine 14, Scottie Ingram 11.