New Castle volleyball coach Randy Gardner is all too familiar with the Wapahani program. He assisted the Raiders last season when they won the Class 2A state championship, and he is best friends with their head coach Mike Lingenfelter.
So when Gardner took his seat on the opposite bench Saturday for the Wapahani Invitational final, he knew his Trojans were in for a dogfight in a hostile environment.
“That’s their M.O. That’s kind of how the town is to an extent, I feel like,” Gardner said of Wapahani. “If you saw the parents, everybody was fired up in the match. It’s that nothing hits the floor mentality, relentless all of the time.”
The relentless Raiders lost the first set to Class 4A No. 2 New Castle and trailed 7-3 in the decisive third, but they stormed back in both instances for a 21-25, 25-23, 15-12 victory.
As Brittany Cline’s kill hit the floor to clinch the match, Wapahani players celebrated by leaping in the air and screaming euphorically.
“It’s just being fighters, I guess,” Wapahani senior outside hitter Aubreigh Applegate said. “We all carry that characteristic. The whole team just has the heart to finish and compete.”
This marked the fifth consecutive Wapahani Invitational championship for the host school, and in each instance, the Raiders beat New Castle in the final. Class 2A No. 1 Wapahani (7-0) beat Elwood 25-9, 25-16 and took care of Monroe Central 25-8, 25-4 in its earlier invite matches.
Applegate paced the Wapahani attack with 33 total kills in the six sets. She and fellow outside hitter Cline saved their best for the final. They put the New Castle defense on its heels in the final two sets by ripping balls. Cline topped the Raiders in the match with 14 kills and Applegate followed with 13.
Their aggressive play took some persuading from Wapahani coach Mike Lingenfelter. He urged his hitters to pick up their intensity after attacking passively in the first set.
“The first set we were trying to tip our way to a title, and at the end of the first set and early in games two and three, we decided we have to go up and swing to win,” Lingenfelter said. “They’re too good. You can’t tip that team. They’re way too good. We’re tipping balls and they’re blasting balls. It’s like fighting cannons with cap guns. We can’t win that way.”
Lauryn Gillis terminated her share of balls with a match-high 21 for the Trojans, but the rest of their attack fizzled in the final two sets against the Wapahani defense. Applegate and libero Paige Williamson shared team-high honors with 12 digs for the Raiders.
“We’ve got to realize somebody else has to score besides (Gillis),” Gardner said. “(Gillis) and Taylor (Patterson) and Ciara (Leath), I thought played all right, but our middles have got to produce better. We have a lot of pressure on us this year to be good, and I think that’s the first time we’ve been in a situation that made us think and get a little uneasy.”
Williamson said the match had a state tournament feel to it. Virtually all of the Raiders are accustomed to that pressure from their march to the state title last season. The Raiders reminded everyone why they’re an overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions this year by beating a New Castle team that Prepvolleyball.com ranked No. 18 in the nation in its preseason poll.
“They’re one of the best in the state, and for us to beat them, I think is a big confidence boost for us,” Williamson said.
Lingenfelter let out a momentary “Woo!” after the final point, but he said afterward that it was probably the first time in his life that he felt bad about a win. He said, “I’m sorry,” as he hugged Gardner and patted him on the back.
“He’s the best young coach in the area in my mind,” Lingenfelter said. “It’s a big win for us, but it wasn’t fun for me personally.”
Defending Class 3A state champion Yorktown demolished three 3A ranked teams and overall, won all four of its matches without dropping a set Saturday at its invitational.
The Tigers opened by beating No. 8 Fort Wayne Concordia 25-14, 25-21. Yorktown followed by beating No. 4 Bishop Chatard in a rematch of the 2011 3A state final. Yorktown then spanked a Roncalli team that received votes in the 4A preseason poll 25-9, 25-10. The Tigers capped the invite by downing No. 3 Bellmont 25-16, 25-21.
“I was really proud with the way our kids played overall,” Yorktown coach Stephanie Bloom said. “It was a really good day for us. We did the little things well such as ball control and serving.”
Yorktown senior outside hitter Nikki Box put up an impressive stat line with a total of 43 kills and 43 digs in eight sets. Senior libero Harlie Holding topped the Tigers in digs with 58. Junior setter Taylor Zwickl totaled 83 assists and 17 digs in the four matches.
The Tigers (8-0) opened at No. 2 in the preseason poll after losing arguably their three best players from a year ago to graduation. But after beating No. 1 Central on Aug. 23 and then taking down three top 10 3A teams Saturday in their invite, they figure to move up to No. 1 when the poll is updated Monday.
“We have some young players just coming in hungry and being coachable and teachable,” Bloom said, “and some credit goes to the leadership of the players who were part of that state championship team last year.”
Class 3A No. 5 Delta split its four matches at the invite. The Eagles opened with wins against 4A No. 7 Westfield 15-25, 25-14, 15-11 and Concordia 25-18, 25-12. Delta lost to Bellmont 27-25, 25-22 and Chatard 25-10, 25-20.
Class A No. 6 Cowan swept all four of its opponents to win its invitational.
The Blackhawks beat Winchester 25-18, 25-22 in the final. Cowan reached the final with a 25-14, 28-26 win over Beech Grove.
Cowan trailed 23-20 in the second set but rallied for what coach Pancho Alvarez described as “the highlight of the day” to sweep the Hornets. Audrey Jones finished off Beech Grove with three kills down the stretch.
Cowan easily won its earlier two matches. The Blackhawks pasted Centerville 25-16, 25-12 and then beat Oldenburg 25-17, 25-11.
The Blackhawks (7-1) served their opponents out of system throughout the invite. Cowan totaled 28 aces in the four sets. Madisen Mangus led the effort with 14 aces. Jones served eight.
“Mangus was kind of surprising with 14,” Alvarez said. “I knew Audrey Jones had a great serving day back there, and then Valorie Flick hit her four aces at crucial times against Winchester.”
Bruner led the Blackhawks in kills with 24 and Flick tallied a team-best 38 digs.