By KEVIN HARRIS
On paper, it appears that the Providence volleyball team has picked up where it left off from last season when it finished as the Class 2A state runner-up.
The Pioneers currently have a 20-4 record and been ranked No. 1 in the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Class 2A poll all season.
In reality, to say that Providence has been cruising through the 2013 season is the furthest thing from the truth.
The Pioneers have battled injurieS, one of the most difficult schedules in the state and maintaining their focus while dealing high expectations from outside of their program.
Still, Providence has won several huge matches and is considered by most volleyball experts within Indiana to be the favorite to capture this year’s Class 2A state championship.
Pioneers’ coach Terri Purichia, who is in her 15th season at her alma mater, has been relatively pleased with the 2013 season so far. Throughout the season, Purichia has made several lineup changes due to injuries to defensive specialists Abby Spitznagel and Maddie Bivens and one of her top front-line players, junior middle blocker Taylor Wilson. Purichia says her team has handled the lineup alterations well.
“This team is seeing how important it is to be versatile and really learning how important playing as a team really is,” Purichia said. “The coaching staff feels we are still behind in where we felt like we wanted to be at this point of the season. This team is very dedicated and is working very hard to make up the ground. I think we are putting it all together at the right time, and hope to be playing our best volleyball in late October when the postseason starts.”
Even though the Pioneers started the season winning their first six matches, Purichia felt her team was not playing as well as it needed to be.
That gut feeling became a revelation at Providence’s annual Early Bird Tournament on Sept. 7. The Pioneers went 1-3 that day as they lost to Class 4A No. 6 Seymour, Class 4A No. 9 Columbus East and another solid 4A team in Franklin.
Providence has rebounded since the Early Bird, winning 14 of its last 15 matches. The Pioneers’ lone loss in that stretch was a four-set setback at perennial Kentucky power Louisville Sacred Heart last Wednesday.
“The beginning of the season was difficult for us in many ways,” Purichia said. “The pressure of the expectations from parents, fans, media, coaches and themselves was really getting to them. We were very disappointed with how we performed in the Early Bird Tournament, and that weekend has been a turning point in a very good way for this team.
“They realized that last season was just that — last season. And to do good things this year, we have to work hard and earn those things for this team.”
Purichia said the lackluster performance in the Early Bird has refocused the Pioneers and it has shown during practice and matches.
“As a team, we took a totally different approach on our practices and matches, and those changes have been very helpful for us,” Purichia said. “They are such great kids and they really want to do well, but I think there was some things that were missing. We identified a few areas that we felt as a team were issues for us, and we came up with a plan to help fix those problems. They have been extremely focused, and I really think they are gaining momentum at a perfect time.”
Two weeks ago, the Pioneers proved how far they have come since the beginning of the season.
On Sept. 18, they defeated archrival Floyd Central, who is currently seventh in the ICGSA Class 4A poll, on the road in five sets. Three days later, Providence won the Ben Davis Invitational in Indianapolis, where it defeated the host Giants, Class 3A No. 10 Batesville and Muncie Burris, one of the top programs in the history of Indiana volleyball.
“Winning the FC match was a really important win for this team,” Purichia said. “We lost Sets 2 and 3 after having a bit of a lead, which was very disappointing. We could have started the bus and headed back to Providence after losing Set 3. I told them I just really wanted to see what it looked like for them to fight for something that they really wanted. Every one of them took their play, their intensity and their support for each other up another notch.
“The Ben Davis tourney was almost the same exact scenario. The competition was very good. We started flat in our first match and then faced Burris in the second. It was a back-and-forth tight match, and to win, everyone had to step it up. They did and it was very exciting. Our last two matches against Batesville and Ben Davis were possibly the best overall matches that we have played so far.”
The schedule does not get any easier for the Pioneers.
Following a trip to Jeffersonville tonight, they will be visited by state perennial power Brownstown Central on Thursday. That will be followed by a match at archrival New Albany on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Oct. 16, Providence will host a rematch with Columbus East.
“The matches against Brownstown, New Albany and Columbus East will not only get us physically ready to play in the postseason, but will also help us improve mentally,” Purichia said. “All of those teams are very good teams, and we have developed a good rivalry with them all over the years. The matches are close together time-wise, so that really helps our team learn to play with consistent intensity with a very little recovery time, which is similar to how the state tournament is aligned.”
Before the Pioneers host the Class 2A Providence Sectional later this month, Purichia thinks her players must work on two key fundamentals — serving and passing.
“To get deep in the postseason, we will need to do a better job serving aggressively to keep the good offensive teams out of system, and not make as many errors in a match as we have so far,” Purichia said. “I want to see our ace-to-error ratio improve against the really good teams. For us to be successful, that is a must.
“We have several hitters that are capable of putting the ball away, so our serve-receive accuracy is crucial for us to be successful in the tournament. Our team has been a great deal of emphasis on this for the past two weeks, and I think it is really making a difference.”
PROVIDENCE’S REMAINING SCHEDULE
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Oct. 2 at Jeffersonville 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 Brownstown Central 8 p.m.
Oct. 8 at New Albany 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 Louisville Butler 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Clinton Prairie Tourney 9 a.m.
Oct. 16 Columbus East 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22-26 Class 2A Providence Sect. TBD