Providence faces one last and huge step to its first volleyball state title.
The No. 2 Pioneers will venture into enemy territory and battle the favorite when they meet No. 1 Wapahani in the IHSAA Class 2-A championship match Saturday afternoon at Ball State University.
Playing the top-ranked team is tough enough, but that’s just the first obstacle. The Raiders (32-4) are also the defending state champions, and they’re one of three Delaware County teams — the hotbed of Indiana volleyball — that will make a short drive (10 miles) to Muncie for the grand finale.
Despite all the Wapahani advantages, Providence coach Terri Purichia believes her team (35-4) is ready to make history, no matter the odds.
“Getting to the state finals has been a dream, but I don’t think our team is going in thinking just getting there is awesome,” she said. “They want to win it. The goal was to get there and win it.
“My team is excited. We’ve wanted this opportunity to see where we stack up. If we can eliminate the distractions going on around us, and just look at it as a good game against another really good team, we can be as competitive as anybody with them. We match up with them really well.”
Wapahani coach Mike Lingenfelter is banking on those intangibles as trump-card edges to make a difference.
“Providence is a lot like us, which really worries me,” he said. “I like how they play, really loose and having a lot of fun. They’re good.”
Wapahani has momentum, having won 23 of its last 24 matches, and the Raiders have not dropped a set in six tournament wins. They have experience with six returning veterans, while Providence has only one senior (libero Kylie Flanagan) and a sophomore core making its first appearance in a title game.
“We know we’re facing an opponent that will present a challenge,” Purichia said. “We know we’ll have to play well. I do know the kids are nervous, and that’s human when you’re going against a team that has had success. But we have to be able to put that aside and be the competitors we have proven to be.”
Providence has been hot of late, winning 12 of 13 while dropping only one set (to Eastern Hancock in the semistate opener) in the tournament. And the Pioneers are coming off one of their better wins, a sweep of defending state runner-up Eastern Greene in the semistate final.
“We will have to come out with that kind of focus,” Purichia said. “I haven’t seen the team come out like that during the entire season. We need to go out there and focus on what we can do very well.”
On paper, the teams are identical. Providence’s power comes from sophomores in middle hitter Taylor Wilson (397 kills), outside hitter Haley Libs (312 kills) and freshman Jacquie Hornung (177 kills). Sophomore setter Patricia Mattingly (923 assists) runs the offense and works the defense on the back row (251 digs) with Flanagan (298 digs).
“Youth can be a benefit sometimes in that they play with energy and are really motivated,” Lingenfelter said. “You want to get out of the gate quick. But these guys are so fresh and bouncy, I don’t think it changes their approach at all. They have a neat swagger about them and they have a lot of good players.”
Wapahani has similar numbers with senior hitter Aubreigh Applegate (433 kills), junior Lindi Thomas (432 kills) and sophomore setter Kiley Lingenfelter (the daughter of the coach with 1,089 assists). Applegate (336 digs) and senior Paige Williamson (442 digs) are the defensive stars.
The Raiders run a fast-paced, attacking tempo, and they score a lot of points off aggressive serving. Wapahani will try to make the Pioneers uncomfortable with that serve pressure, which will put a premium on passing if Providence wants to control the net with its height advantage.
Providence made previous trips to the state finals in 1975 and 1986 in the single-class format, then in 1999 (3-A), 2001 (3-A) and 2002 (3-A) when the finals were four-team events. Wapahani won a Class A state title in 2002.
The teams have faced two common opponents this season. Both lost to Floyd Central and both defeated Cowan.
Providence vs. Wapahani, 1 p.m. Saturday
The No. 2 Pioneers are shooting for their first state championship and are making their first appearance in a title game.
* No. 1 Wapahani is the defending 2-A state champion. The Raiders beat Eastern Greene 25-16, 28-26, 25-14 in last year’s final.
* Providence was ranked No. 1 in the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association poll for one week during the regular season.
* “If at any point we let up on them and don’t come after them with everything we have, we’re going to have problems.”
— Providence coach Terri Purichia
* “I believe we’re the two best teams in the tournament. It should be interesting. I am excited.”
— Wapahani coach Mike Lingenfelter