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August 16, 2013

H.S. VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Pioneers prepared to make another run at Class 2A state title

Team-by-team previews

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — The Providence volleyball team has been waiting very patiently for the 2013 season to begin ever since its heartbreaking loss to Wapahani in the Class 2A state championship match on Nov. 3, 2012 at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.

On Wednesday at Silver Creek, the wait will be over.

The Pioneers’ season opener against the Dragons will start its second consecutive quest to earn the program’s first state championship.

For the past nine-plus months, coach Terri Purichia has noticed how anxious her players have been to get the 2013 campaign rolling.

“I think coming off a year like last season, we couldn’t wait to get back into the gym,” Purichia said. “We couldn’t wait to be the Providence volleyball team again. Everybody played in the offseason and had really good club [ball] experiences. [The Pioneers] are really hungry to do some things they haven’t been able to accomplish so far.

“I can almost guarantee you that for the last [nine] months, that’s all they’ve really been thinking about as they’ve been training.”

In fact according to Purichia, the Providence players were fired up to play their preseason scrimmage with New Albany on Thursday at the Larkin Center.

“They were champing at the bit all day at school to get in here and scrimmage New Albany and see what we look like against another team. They’re just ready,” Purichia said.

Providence (35-5 last season) has nine key players back from last year’s Class 2A state runner-up squad. That includes three Pioneers who made the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Class 2A All-State team in middle blocker Taylor Wilson, setter Patricia Mattingly and outside hitter Haley Libs. The All-State trio are all juniors.

The six other returnees are senior middle blocker Maile Daniel, senior defensive specialist Abby Spitznagel, junior right-side hitter and defensive specialist Maddie Bivens, junior right-side hitter Carlie Combs, sophomore outside hitter Jacquie Hornung and sophomore libero Audrey Shannon.

Senior defensive specialist Mary Kate Meyer joins the varsity squad after playing for the junior varsity team last season.

“I can’t explain to you how much fun it is to be around this team,” Purichia said. “They love each other and they like being here. They like being a part of this team and they like being a part of this program. The performance we had at the state finals was such a good experience, yet it was so disappointing.”

One player who will be tough to replace is last year’s lone senior and libero, Kylie Flanagan. Purichia said Flanagan, who will be playing volleyball at Marian University in Indianapolis this season, was the Pioneers’ top leader last season.

“I know we only lost one person, but it was a very critical person. She was our libero and our leader, so trying to fill a leadership role for any team is difficult,” Purichia said. “But we do have three good seniors that are doing a really good job of taking that [leadership] load on, and the girl that we think is going to earn the libero position [Shannon] is doing an outstanding job so far.”

Purichia has made some changes to the Pioneers’ already-difficult schedule to get her players battle-tested for another possible state-title run.

Providence has welcomed some new teams to play in its annual Early Bird Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 7. Those squads are Seymour, Brownstown Central, Franklin and Shelbyville. They will be joining the Pioneers, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis Roncalli, Columbus East and Jasper in the formidable tournament field.

Providence also will be in a new tournament — the Ben Davis Invitational — on Saturday, Sept. 21 in Indianapolis. The tourney will feature longtime state powerhouse Muncie Burris.

As always, the Pioneers have several tough dual matches on their schedule with New Albany, Floyd Central, Silver Creek, Brownstown and Sacred Heart Academy from Louisville.

“Our record doesn’t matter to us. It’s just the competition we’re trying to play like New Albany, Seymour, Brownstown, Floyd Central and Columbus East,” said Purichia, who also said her players are excited to be hosting a Class 2A sectional this season. “Those teams are going to put it on us each time that we face them. We want to make sure our strength of schedule was consistent throughout the season. We didn’t want a section of the schedule to be light, so we worked really hard to get that fixed.

“The whole schedule is practice. It’s all practice. We have to be ready to go once that October date hits where we’re playing sectional and playing it here. Everything up to that point is just getting us ready.”

Purichia says her and her coaching staff are trying to take a step-at-a-time approach with the Pioneers in maintaining their focus to achieve this season’s high goals, which includes a state championship.

“It’s almost like a ladder. You have to climb each rung one at a time in order to get to the top. If you want to be at the top, you can’t skip steps,” Purichia said. “I’m very lucky. They buy into everything that we’re trying to do. They’re just awesome kids. They enjoy being around each other. Everybody was a part of it last year and they can’t wait to get the season started.”

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