By JON REITER
FERDINAND — They cruised through the first two sets in their semistate championship matchup against Evansville Mater Dei and struggled a bit in the third, but the Providence Pioneers volleyball team prevailed against the Wildcats 25-15, 25-16, 26-24 to advance to their second consecutive Class 2A state finals appearance.
The Pioneers also defeated No. 2 Speedway 25-16, 25-21, 25-15 earlier in Saturday’s Class 2A Forest Park Semistate.
"Up until today, there hasn't been a lot of pressure put on this team during the tournament," said Providence (35-4) coach Terri Purchia. "Speedway had some horses that could do that, and Mater Dei absolutely had some horses that could do it. [Mater Dei] just would not go away. Each set, they got better and better. So keeping calm and gutting that third set out was extremely important to our confidence level. Our kids need to realize that if they can continue to play with that kind of emotion, we're going to be very hard to stop."
Providence will face Hammond Noll, who advanced to the 2A championship with a five-set win over Woodlan, for the state crown.
The state finals will be held in Worthen Arena on Ball State University's campus in Muncie, with game time scheduled for approximately 1 p.m. Saturday.
The No. 1 Pioneers looked as if they were going to steamroll Mater Dei, cruising through the first two sets 25-15 and 25-16 with a virtuoso display of hitting, passing and defense.
Purchia has said all along that the key to the Pioneers' success this season was closely tied to their service, and Providence didn't commit their first service error until the end of the second set of the championship match.
"It's something we've been working a lot on in practice, and we're getting better and better with it," said sophomore outside hitter Jacquie Hornung, who contributed seven kills to the Providence attack. “If we can be accurate and be aggressive with our service it makes it very hard to beat us."
It was the third set where the Wildcats posed the strongest challenge to Providence's state championship bid. Mater Dei jumped out to a 6-3 lead following a kill from 6-foot-1 middle hitter Maura Meunsterman, who is an Indiana University commit in basketball and notched 11 kills.
Behind the service of junior setter Patricia Mattingly, who had three aces on the night, the Pioneers rattled off eight consecutive points to seemingly take control of the matchup with an 11-6 lead.
Mater Dei whittled away at the Providence advantage, and actually took a 24-23 lead following two consecutive service aces from Candace Harsh.
Following a Providence timeout, Harsh committed a service error and Mattingly earned her sixth kill of the night to allow the Pioneers to regain a 25-24 lead.
On the decisive point, junior outside hitter Hayley Libs stuffed a Megan Farny kill attempt at the net, and the Pioneer celebration was on.
"I saw it coming, and once I got to the net, I thought to myself, 'I've got this,’" said Libs, who had 11 kill. "It ended up being perfect."
The victory was highlighted by a superb performance by Mattingly, who came up with 35 assists and six kills to go along with the three aces on the night.
"Patricia has had an incredible season," Purchia said. "Offensively, the success we have. She's the mastermind behind it. For one, she's a great setter. She can pick apart an offensive group. And she plays awesome defense and is a great server. Not only that, but she's an attacking weapon at the net. She's a complete player. I can't say enough good things about what she's done for us this season."
CLASS 2A FOREST PARK SEMISTATE
PROVIDENCE 3, SPEEDWAY 0
Providence 25 25 25
Speedway 16 21 15
EVANSVILLE MATER DEI 3, UNION COUNTY 0
Mater Dei 25 29 25
Union Co. 18 27 15
PROVIDENCE 3, EVANSVILLE MATER DEI 0
Providence 25 25 26
Mater Dei 15 16 24
Providence: Patricia Mattingly 35 assists, 6 kills, 4 blocks, 3 aces; Haley Libs 11 kills; Taylor Wilson 11 kills; Jacquie Horning 7 kills; Mailie Daniel 7 kills.
Mater Dei: Maura Muensterman 11 kills; Megan Farney 21 assists; Tori Schickel 7 kills; Candace Harsh 5 kills.