Cowan volleyball coach Pancho Alvarez pauses for a moment as he ponders the question.
There is, of course, an obvious answer just waiting to be said. Surely, rallying to beat nemesis Wes-Del in five sets in the sectional title match is the defining moment of the season thus far for his Class A state finalist Blackhawks, right?
But instead of choosing the obvious sectional win, Alvarez says the defining moment for his team occurred during back-to-back road matches in the opening two weeks of the season.
The first was Aug. 28 in the historic Muncie Fieldhouse where the Blackhawks lost to six-time Class 4A state champion Central 25-13, 25-23, 22-25, 25-12.
“I realized how good we could be just in terms of our ability to pass and serve and hang with one of the teams that I am sure has obliterated Cowan teams in the past,” Alvarez says. “That was kind of like, wow, we could be pretty good.”
Obliterated perfectly sums up what the Blackhawks did to Monroe Central on Aug. 30. What stood out to Alvarez in that match is not so much the 25-13, 25-9, 25-12 lopsided score, but rather how his Blackhawks managed to play with the same intensity against the Golden Bears as they did two days earlier against the Bearcats.
Two points specifically in that match convinced Alvarez that he had a state championship caliber team. Twice, a Blackhawk nearly ran into the wall chasing down a shanked pass to save the ball and extend a rally. In both instances, the Blackhawks were comfortably ahead late in the set. It’s not as if those points were going to affect the outcome, and yet the players hustled as if the match was on the line.
“Just in my head, I thought, ‘Wow, this team gets it,’ Alvarez says. “They understand the importance of every point, and they’re not going to say, well, that ball’s gone, I don’t need to go get it.”
Cowan has played with a refuse to let the ball hit the floor type of mentality throughtout the season. The Blackhawks are in the state finals due to their exceptional ball control, and what makes it exceptional is their commitment to chasing down and diving for every ball in sight.
“That’s why at state we just have to go after everything,” libero Valorie Flick says.
The Blackhawks have twice previously played in the state championship match. Cowan lost to Marquette Catholic in 1999 and 2000. The Blackhawks’ opponent Saturday, Loogootee, is all too familiar with falling short to that same team. Loogootee lost to Marquette Catholic in three consecutive state finals from 2005-07.
One of these state finalists will finally break through and win its first state title Saturday in Worthen Arena. The Blackhawks already disposed of Marquette Catholic last Saturday at the Caston Semistate and are convinced this is their year.
“I’m looking forward to the ring on my finger,” senior outside hitter Mallory Bruner says. “… I’ll wear it every day of my life.”
Junior defensive specialist Kelsie Mace is one of the girls who nearly ran into the wall to dig up a ball at Monroe Central. Mace was literally chasing down a ball that night, but the motivation behind it is where the figuratively enters the equation.
In her mind, she’s been chasing a state title since back in early August when the Blackhawks started their two-a-day practices. Now, Mace and the rest of her teammates are one win away from finally putting a first state championship banner in the Cowan gymnasium.
“It’s something I can tell my kids someday,” Mace says, “and they’ll be like, ‘Mom, you’re a state champion.’ “