CLARKSVILLE — Providence volleyball success is not a new phenomenon, but this year's Pioneers begin their quest this week to accomplish something new. Coach Terri Purichia's squad will look to add a Class 4A state championship trophy to pair with the 2A version the Pioneers won in 2016.
This year's version has earned some national accolades, with a brief stay in the USA Today Super 25 and, more recently, a No. 9 ranking by prepvolleyball.com, the highest mark achieved in those rankings.
The physical talents on the Providence team jump out at observers, but other strengths are evident. A tight team camaraderie generates a strong collective will to win that has led to a 25-1 season and a No. 3 state ranking. The Pioneers' lone loss was to Indiana's top-rated team — New Castle — and they have wins over nationally-ranked Louisville Mercy Academy and Hamilton Southeastern, Indiana's fourth-rated overall team by the IndianaPrepVolleyball.com's Z-Ratings.
Providence has key non-seniors, such as outside hitter Ali Hornung, setter Emma Kaelin and Anna Purichia, all juniors. However five seniors have certainly put their stamp on the program in their final season.
"Every single year we've had a really good team. The difference in this team is how much we love each other and the camaraderie between everybody," senior outside hitter Courtney Glotzbach said. "The majority of us, there's groups that play on the same club team, and we all come from the same place. Just that being so close to each other. Everybody's friends. There's no drama, there hasn't been drama, there won't be drama with this team. That's the difference between this team and the past years."
Glotzbach's senior teammates Maggie Purichia, Ceci Rush, Brynna Walthers and Ali Hughes echo her sentiments about the cohesiveness of the group.
"The coaching and the friendships have been the most important," said Walthers, a defensive specialist. "I am extremely close to my teammates. I just think we all have the same humor. We're all able to laugh, able to cry together, we're able to struggle together. Through the wins and the losses, we have each other's backs."
Rush, a University of Louisville-bound libero, described the team as having "a good mix of leaders."
Coach Purichia agrees.
"We stress teamwork. It seems that this group has just embraced it one notch above what other teams possibly have done," she said. "We have five senior players and they each bring a different personality. It works so well. They're a leadership team."
A VERSATILE WEAPON AT THE NET
Glotzbach ranks second behind Hornung on the team in kills, averaging 3.5 per set to Hornung's 4.0. They're also close in hitting percentage with a .327 mark for Hornung and .316 for Glotzbach.
"Courtney can play the left, but we also can put her in the middle and on the right. She's a versatile weapon that we can use to exploit teams," Purichia said.
A four-year starter, Glotzbach was also second on the team with 354 kills during her freshman season. As a leader, Purichia described Glotzbach as "fiery but also calm," adding that she has the sense for what the situation calls for.
Glotzbach had a season-high 21 kills and 10 blocks against New Albany but on a team with strong balance, she's been a steady producer throughout the season against a beefed-up schedule that ranks No. 1 in the strength-of-schedule ranking by IndianaPrepVolleyball.com.
"It's definitely gotten stronger moving into 4A. We've tried to make our tournaments and Saturdays a lot more difficult because we don't have a ton of control over who we play during the week," Glotabach said.
Providence is 126-11 over the past four years.
This season, Providence suffered its only loss to No. 1 New Castle, a team the Pioneers hope to see again in the state championship match.
"That was the first time any of us have seen them in our four years. We never play those kids in club. It was nice seeing them before postseason because we will [see them]," Glotzbach said.
CALMING BACK-ROW PRESENCE
Rush is the team leader with 275 digs, but she's also a strong veteran presence.
"Ceci does a great job keeping everyone settled," Coach Purichia said.
Rush said she was ready to step into the full-time libero role this season.
"Each year I start to play a little bit more. This year, taking in the libero role after Madison Kruer last year. She helped me a lot. She always kept things positive. We can get caught up in the pressures: the crowd, the coaches, the team, our fans, everyone. We can get caught up in that. She would always say 'It's just volleyball, we've been doing it all our lives, just take a deep breath,'" Rush said.
Is there some pressure to live up to such high expectations?
"We do have a lot of pressure put on us. We are teenage girls. Everybody's gonna make mistakes. In the end, we remember that we have each other. We know what we can work on to continue to improve," Rush said.
That's where the leadership comes in.
"We have a balance of the the vocal ones and those that remain calm and keep us down to earth. Myself and Emma, we try to keep everyone focused," Rush said. "My sister Lydia is definitely the craziest on the team, she's a spark that comes in. She brings energy."
'THE COMEDIC RELIEF'
Walthers has seen action in every match this season and had a season-best seven digs against Louisville Butler on Sept. 30. Her impact is also felt off the court, in team huddles or on the bench.
"She knows when it's tense and is such a funny kid. Bubbles and sparkles. She keeps it light and fun," coach Purichia said.
Purichia met with her seniors close to 20 times since January to discuss the seniors' vision for the season. That vision is playing out well so far.
"It's really important to hear what they have to say. This particular group has been working with me since January. They had a very definite vision on how they wanted this year to go. We probably had 20-plus meetings, just me, [assistant coach] Brandy [Denning] and the girls, planning their vision. To the letter, we've done what they wanted to do. I don't change a lot year to year, but I listen to my seniors. I want them to take ownership," Purichia said.
Those sessions were important, Walthers said.
"Our coaches always encourage us on, and off, the court. It's just a great group of people and I wouldn't want to work with anyone else," Walthers said. "I think our coaches really worked hard with us in preseason conditioning and motivated us to fight for what we want, and that's hopefully a state title in November."
MOTHERLY MIDDLE HITTER
On the court, Maggie Purichia is among the state leaders with 94 blocks. She's also fourth on the team with 108 kills.
"It's been my best season. I like playing with all my senior friends and I get to play with my sisters Anna and Grace," Maggie said.
Off the court, her mom describes her as "extremely motherly."
It's a group of players that first began playing together as third and fourth graders — so Senior Night was a bit emotional.
"It was a special night for me. They're really close to me and I've known them for a long time. It's going to be very difficult when I graduate and move on without them. It's been a great ride," Maggie Purichia said.
The success this season has simply built off the recent years.
"We're just really close with each other. We have so much energy and never really get down ourselves. If something happens, we figure out how to make it work and fix it," Maggie Purichia said.
A VERSATILE RESERVE
Hughes ranks third on the team with 36 blocks as she fills in at middle and on the outside.
She'll have a lot of volleyball memories after this season to look back on. Preparing for matches will be one thing that stands out.
"Our coaches come in the locker room when we're getting dressed and ready and go over specific goals or certain people. Normally we end with our main goal as giving as many high fives and hugs as possible. Even if we're playing Mercy or New Castle and are in this super serious game mode, just still have fun," Hughes said.
As for this particular season, beating Mercy for the first time in five seasons was a big deal.
"The last time we beat them was 2015, so we were all eighth-graders. Just every year that game is super important and beating them was one of our goals. It's right out of the gate and we really put a lot of emphasis on that match specifically. We went four sets. The best set was the fourth. We really bounced back right after dropping the third," Hughes said.
Hughes "keeps it from being too stressful," Terri Purichia said. "Every one of them contributes. It's a leadership package. Everybody gives so much to the team. The team responds to all of them. That's one of the biggest differences in this group of seniors is that, sometimes when you get five, a couple people will emerge. This group has so many things to contribute that the team needs."