The focal point of the Providence High School volleyball team was its strength against visiting Southwestern on Tuesday in the Class 2-A regional championship.
The Pioneers (33-4) served their way to a 25-8, 25-12, 25-20 victory over the Rebels (26-11) for their second straight regional title.
After Providence dominated the first two sets, Southwestern rallied in the third and led 12-7. The Pioneers battled back behind aces from freshman Audrey Shannon and junior Abby Spitznagel to tie it at 13.
It remained close until the Pioneers tallied the final three points to seal the outcome.
“Our preseason goal was to be one of the best serving teams in the state of Indiana,” Providence coach Terri Purichia said. “We feel like if we can always put pressure on a team with our serve, that will allow us to do some things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
“We wanted to keep them out of their system. Set one and set two we were able to do that, but set three they came out smoking. They started putting the ball down the line on us a little, and we didn’t have the service pressure.”
Southwestern coach Chris Johnson said his team made some adjustments after watching film of its Sept. 20 loss to the Pioneers, adding an emphasis on blocking cross court and putting two defenders on the sideline.
“It was the right game plan,” he said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
Providence cruised to a 6-0 lead in the first set. The Rebels got within 12-6 on a kill by senior Lexi Means and a net violation, but Providence reeled off the next seven points to make it 19-6.
The Rebels picked up their offense in the second set and trailed just 7-4 before Providence sophomore Taylor Wilson was called to serve. She had five aces in an 8-0 run that put the Pioneers in control.
“Our big problem all match was we just didn’t play offense,” Johnson said. “We were letting Providence dictate each point, and we weren’t digging the ball properly. Halfway through the second set I thought we started to do that better.”
Means keyed the Rebels’ rally to open the third set with three aces. Southwestern held a slim lead until a block by Wilson tied it at 13, and Providence took its first lead at 14-13 on sophomore Haley Libs’ kill.
The toughest point of the match for the Pioneers came when the Rebels dived three times to keep a point alive until Providence finally got the block.
After an ace by Southwestern senior Savannah Hubbard cut the gap to 22-20, the Pioneers notched three points behind Libs’ serves and the final kill by junior Maile Daniel.
“We’ve been working on different types of serves: high, deep, short, everything,” Providence senior libero Kylie Flanagan said. “We executed it and focused on it, and it helped a lot because they couldn’t pass the ball.”
Purichia said the large crowd was good preparation for what her young team will face when it plays Eastern Hancock (28-9) in semistate competition Saturday.
“Nobody on my team has played in front of this kind of crowd before,” she said. “It absolutely had an impact. They’re still freshmen and sophomores. They get the jitters, and when something doesn’t go right that they’re used to going right, they do flinch a little bit. They have to work through that, and I think they did.”