By GREG MENGELT
On Saturday, Providence coach Terri Purichia led the Pioneers to their first volleyball state championship.
Despite the Class 2A state title being the first for Purichia and the Pioneers, they are no stranger to success. Before Saturday’s championship, Providence’s 15-year veteran head coach had led the Pioneers to eight sectional titles, six regional crowns, including each of the past three seasons, and two consecutive semistate championships.
Purichia and the Pioneers should be heavy favorites to repeat as state champions in 2014 and should contend for titles beyond that.
“We just have a lot of talent in the program right now,” Purichia said. “We’re just very blessed right now with a strong group of kids — not just in ability, but also in character. They’re doing some really great things.”
On Wednesday, Purichia sat down with News and Tribune sports editor Greg Mengelt to talk about her team’s championship season and what it’s going to take to repeat as champions in a two-part “On the Spot.”
• QUESTION: Every week during the tournament run, you’d tell me about the next challenge and that someone was eventually going to challenge you, and no one ever did. Did you know deep down that if your team played well, no one was going to beat them?
• PURICHIA: “I knew that if we played well, we were going to be hard to beat. But I did see that the last three teams we played [Speedway and Evansville Mater Dei in the semistate and Hammond Noll at state] were three teams that could stop us. Yes, I know people felt it was ‘coach speak’ by me, but I really did believe it. I’ve seen this group come out a little flat and I knew if we didn’t play well, any of those three teams could beat us.”
• Q: So now are you going to try to convince me that someone out there can stop you from repeating as state champions next year?
• PURICHIA: “Sure, someone could beat us next year. That Noll was unranked was almost ridiculous. They were definitely a talented team. They were very good. Evansville Mater Dei has an excellent program. Speedway, that team was all sophomores. They’re going to have basically their entire team back. Then we have Muncie Burris. The power of that program is crazy and they’re back on the upswing with a new coach. They’re trying to bring back the tradition of that program, so they’re somebody we have to watch out for. Southwood is a good program. There are teams in the 2A group that are good enough to beat the Pioneers, even at our best. We’re always going to dangle that carrot out there and, hopefully, they understand there are some obstacles along the path.”
• Q: Your juniors and a couple of your sophomores got most of the headlines this year. How important were your seniors — Maile Daniel, Abby Spitznagel and Mary Kate Meyer — to your team’s success?
• PURICHIA: “Leadership is everything. The sophomores and juniors were respectful of those three girls and they knew those were our leaders and what they said went. While maybe the core talent and ability of the team came from the juniors and the sophomores, the leadership was all the seniors. The path this group took was very much the path the seniors directed. It’s a tribute to the seniors for being great kids. They weren’t always on the court and, on other teams, they may not have been as well respected. But our team loved and respected and cared for them so much. They knew this was their team. And our juniors and sophomores allowed them to do that.”
• Q: With the success factor, Wapahani moved up to Class 3A. Would you have liked a rematch in this year’s 2A state finals against them?
• PURICHIA: “I would have loved to have played them again and so would our team. A lot of people have said the only reason we got there and won it was because of the success factor. I would have liked to have proven we were the best team in 2A this year and would have rather gone that route. I would have rather played Wapahani and left all that doubt behind.”
• Q: Early on in class basketball, they had a “Tournament of Champions.” Would you have liked a shot at Class 4A state champion Avon?
• PURICHIA: “We would have loved to have a shot at Avon. We would have loved a shot at anybody in 3A. The girls talked about it, ‘Coach, can you set it up to play this team or that team?’ We would have loved to have had a ‘Tournament of Champions,’ not because we thought we could beat them, but just to see what we could have done. Would Avon have beaten us? Probably so. But we would love to have seen how competitive we could be with them.”
• Q: Was there a time in the past 15 years that you considered taking another job?
• PURICHIA: “My husband got a job in Indianapolis a few years ago and we were going to have to move. I remember, as if it was yesterday ... Deanery Night is always a special night for Providence volleyball, all the Deanery kids come in ... I remember being as emotional as I was [Saturday] at the state finals. I cried, I cried, I cried. My coaches asked, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to leave this program because I see all of these kids and I know it’s really going to be special here the next couple of years. I remember these kids sitting in the front row of the bleachers and watching and waiting for their time. I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a special group. You could tell they wanted to be a Providence volleyball player so badly.”
• Q: Is there any plan for the offseason to be different this year than any time in the past?
• PURICHIA: “We want to do more strength training and work on some of the injuries we had. That’s probably going to be the only thing that will be different as a team. We’re going to try to improve the schedule. We did that last year just to challenge them. I don’t care what our record is — I just want to challenge them. I want to play teams that are as good as we are, if not better. Hopefully, they won’t ever lose the hunger to be the best. Each year it gets more difficult to challenge them, but these kids challenge themselves. They’re very goal-oriented and want to success. I think there’s enough to keep them hungry.”
• Q: What does it say about an athletic program at the 2A level that has a girls’ soccer program and a volleyball program both competing for state championships on an annual basis?
• PURICHIA: “There’s no better time to be a Pioneer than right now. This junior class, as a whole, has been part of five state championship appearances in three years. The fall this year was over the top exciting. When your teams are doing well, it promotes an attitude of pride that can’t be matched at other schools. It shows that hard work pays off. We have really good coaches here and really great kids here and I think we have amazing parents. [Providence girls’ soccer coach] Dave Smith once said this to me, that their state championship [in 2011] was going to be the first of many to come. All we needed was for somebody to open the door to make everyone realize it was possible. I think that’s exactly what happened. All of the sudden, all of these teams have hope. They know now it is possible. I think the soccer team paved the way for everybody else to believe we have what it takes to be a state championship school. It’s been so much fun to be a part of.”
• Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to address?
• PURICHIA: “The one thing I’d like to hit home is that I felt like — and I still feel this way, probably more now than I did on Saturday — the overwhelming response that this team has gotten the last couple of days reiterates in my mind what a special program Providence volleyball really is. It’s 40 years of people who have worked very hard. I feel like this is for all of them. This was the team that was finally able to get it done, but it was for a greater purpose. It was for everybody and I think that’s why everyone was excited. Everyone felt a part of it. Everyone who has ever been part of the program felt like this program belongs to them, as well. That’s very special to me.”
Note: Part 1 of this “On the Spot” feature ran in Thursday’s News and Tribune sports section.