By KEVIN HARRIS
When a high school volleyball team has swept each of its matches in the IHSAA state tournament, you would think the players would have been very happy with their performance entering probably the biggest match of their lives, right?
But as far as the Providence Pioneers are concerned, that assumption is dead wrong.
Sure, the Class 2A No. 1 Pioneers have practically dominated every opponent they have faced in the 2013 postseason. Along with not dropping a single game, Providence has allowed more than 20 points in just two of its 18 postseason sets.
But during their state championship run, the Pioneers have noticed some things that they must fix if they are to win their first-ever state title. Providence (35-4) will face unranked Hammond Bishop Noll (30-9) in Saturday’s Class 2A state championship match at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
“I think we have been playing really good and really strong. But there is still a little more potential that we have that we’re still working to achieve,” Pioneers’ senior defensive specialist Abby Spitznagel said. “We still did play really good during the tournament. But I still think that there is a little more that we can strive for.”
Even though Providence junior setter Patricia Mattingly has been impressed with her team’s postseason play, she agrees with Spitznagel that the Pioneers are capable of much more.
“Right now, it’s a huge accomplishment of what we’ve been able to do and to not get knocked off in any sets,” Mattingly said about reaching the state championship match for the second consecutive season. “But I still think we still have a lot more in us.”
Providence middle hitter Taylor Wilson says the Pioneers have played better than they have in the state tournament. Entering the postseason, Providence won 23 of its last 24 matches. In those 23 victories, the Pioneers recorded sweeps in 21 of them.
“Actually, I think that we’ve let down a little bit this postseason,” Wilson said. “We can play a lot better than we’ve been playing this postseason. Yea, we’ve swept everybody. But I think our best ball has yet to be shown. We played better in games during the season before the postseason. We haven’t shown our true [potential] yet, and Saturday I think we’ll bring it out.”
Providence coach Terri Purichia has liked the “not satisfied” attitude her players have taken throughout the season. That attitude began after falling in last year’s Class 2A state title match to Wapahani, 22-25, 25-15, 25-6, 25-22.
“[The Pioneers] know that we haven’t played perfectly. But we keep coming in every day and working on those things so we can do the best we can,” Purichia said. “We did not have the maturity to bring ourselves back in [the state championship] match last year. But I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in that area this year, and I do think it is because [the Pioneers] are a little older. I think they really learned from that experience to step on somebody’s throat and keep it there until the job is done. We’ve won some nice matches this season because we haven’t stopped playing until it’s over. We’re good enough to beat anybody, but we’re also capable of losing to anybody.”
Purichia says Noll has “three big guns” in its front line, led by 5-foot-8 outside hitter Carly Cappello. The junior leads the Warriors in kills (520) and digs (298).
Noll middle hitter Asya Hobbs has complemented Cappello well at the net. The 5-10 senior leads the Warriors in blocks (269), ranks second on the team in kills (374) and is third in digs (229).
Noll senior outside hitter Carissa Jones ranks third on the Warriors in kills (234) and second in digs (232).
Noll runs a two-setter attack, with 5-3 junior setter Emily Johnson leading the squad in assists (558). Six-foot freshman Brittany Anderson is second on the Warriors in assists (479).
“I know that they are extremely athletic,” Purichia said. “They have a couple of multi-sport kids who jump very, very well and move very, very well. Quickness is a real key factor for them. They are explosive and they are great leapers. They do have some volleyball-savvy kids that are sprinkled into the lineup, and they play all the Chicago teams. They are very close to Chicago and they play a lot of Chicago teams. They have a real strong schedule and I think that’s probably why they have nine losses.”
Purichia thinks there are three keys for her team to bring home the state championship trophy on Saturday. The veteran Pioneers’ coach says her troops must continue to serve the ball strong like they have during the postseason and to pass well. Purichia also says her team must maintain its composure, especially when the match is getting tight.
“I think the best is yet to come for this team,” Purichia said. “I think we have played well, but I still think [the Pioneers] have another level that we can kick it into and I believe that will come on Saturday. I think they know that they have a fight on their hands with Bishop Noll, and I believe they will be able to take it to that next level.”