By GREG MENGELT
Teams as young as Providence’s volleyball team aren’t supposed to be so good this fast.
Conventional wisdom says that with six sophomores and a pair of freshmen — and just one senior and one junior in the starting line — lack of experience should have derailed the Pioneers’ tournament run by now.
These Pioneers are anything but conventional.
“This group of sophomores, in particular, but all of them, is a volleyball-dedicated group,” Providence coach Terri Purichia said. “More than any team I’ve ever had. I’ve always had kids that play club ball, but this group is just so focused on doing whatever it takes to get better — extra lessons, weight lifting, velocity training, everything they do outside of our three-month season.
“Their commitment goes so far above what you would expect out of as normal volleyball player, that’s why their success has come so quickly.”
The Pioneers are confident, too. Coming into the season, they didn’t expect anything less than a trip to Muncie for the Class 2A state finals.
“I think we knew coming into this season, we were going to be strong,” junior Abby Spitznagel said. “We had the expectation of wanting to get to state. We knew we could make it.”
“We knew we’re young but we’re really talented,” sophomore Maddie Bivens said. “We’ve had the mindset all year that we’re going to state.”
After a rocky start to the 2011 season, Providence got on a roll and finished the season with sectional and regional titles with freshmen all over their lineup.
That gave Purichia the first inkling that Providence was in for something special.
“I thought last year’s success was early,” she said. “We didn’t anticipating having the kind of success we did last season. This year, because of what we did last year, we sort of expected them to be a able to climb a step further.
“The youth of the team last year maturing and developing so quickly was the surprise.
“Ending the season in the semistate and really doing some great things toward the end of the season was the big surprise.”
Like last year, a hot finish to the regular season propelled the Pioneers into a great tournament run. The regular season ended with a five-set victory at Class 4A No. 4 Columbus East. Since that win, the Pioneers have dropped just one set. That came in last week’s Forest Park Semi-state against Eastern Hancock.
One of the reasons has been the team’s depth. Purichia has 10 Pioneers who have a ton of varsity experience.
“It’s a very deep team,” Purichia said. “We have a lot of ability to move people around. They’re interchangeable and that has proven to be very, very helpful to us.”
“We have a lot of versatile players who can play anywhere on the court,” Spitznagel said. “We have a lot of passers and anybody can hit.”
All 10 will need to be at their best Saturday when they take on defending 2A champion Wapahani from the volleyball hotbed of Delaware County.
While the Pioneers will be making a three-hour trek to Muncie, the Raiders will be right in their back yards. While Wapahani won last year’s state title, Providence has never played on championship weekend.
“We have the ability to go in there as a new team that they haven’t seen yet and put some pressure on them,” Spitznagel said.
“It’s makes us want to win it so much more,” Bivens said. “We have a chance to beat them and take it away from them and show that we’re No. 1.”
“Honestly, I think that could play both ways for us,” Purichia said. “It could be good and it could be bad. We’re trying to prepare them for the things that could catch them off guard, but as far as the big-game atmosphere of it, they’re ready for that. They’ve been seeing that the whole tournament. Our only concern is the difference in the court, the lighting, the ceiling being so tall, the air flow, the crowd being so far away. Those logistical things. But they’re ready to play in the big game.”
No matter what happens on Saturday, Providence will be loaded with talent to make runs at state titles in 2013 and 2014. While valuable, libero Kylie Flangan is the lone graduating Pioneer.
Providence will return 1,227 of its 1,233 kills, 1,013 of its 1,046 assists and all 479 of its blocks next season.
“Losing Kylie hurts the team, for sure, but I’m going to be really honest, the group of kids we have coming back, as a coach, I am so excited about the possibilities,” Purichia said.
If the Pioneers win the state championship on Saturday, they will move up to Class 3A and likely join Brownstown Central and Silver Creek in a tough sectional. With a loss, Providence would stay put in 2A.
“Going to another class will mean we have a state championship under our belts,” Purichia said. “We’ll deal with that later. If we get to the state title game and don’t win it, we have this same team back and we stay in 2A, so that gives us another couple opportunities to get it. I feel like we’re in a win-win situation.”