Yorktown volleyball coach Stephanie Bloom walked off the court Saturday night frustrated with how her Tigers wilted when pressured by Wapahani in the Delaware County Tournament final.
Bloom cranked up the intensity at practice Monday and put some pressure of her own on her players.
“Saturday night was a huge wake-up call for us,” Yorktown senior outside hitter Nikki Box said. “We learned that when someone is pushing us that we have to push back. We can’t fold. You have to keep going at them. Coach Bloom has based our practice around that. She’s the one, even though she’s not playing, who’s attacking us and pushing us and making us respond by pushing harder back. Her main focus in practice is when it gets hard, you keep pushing and you keep going at them.”
The Class 3A No. 1 Tigers will take the court tonight for the first time since their loss to Wapahani, and the side staring at them across the net is more than capable of pushing them right out of their own gym. Yorktown (25-2) will play host to Class 4A No. 1 New Castle (27-2) at approximately 7:30 p.m. in yet another showdown between teams ranked No. 1 in their respective classes.
This marks the fifth time this season that the Tigers will play a team ranked No. 1 in its class. Yorktown beat Cowan (A) and Central (3A) and lost twice to 2A No. 1 Wapahani. Led by Lauryn Gillis, talent-laden New Castle will present the Tigers as formidable a challenge as anyone.
“I always get amped up for really good teams like Wapahani, and especially New Castle, because I know for a fact Lauryn Gillis is going to be on her game,” Yorktown senior libero Harlie Holding said of the USC recruit, who ranks top five in the state with 438 kills and a gaudy .450 hitting percentage.
New Castle coach Randy Gardner is eager to see how his team responds tonight. The Trojans have yet to play a match in what he considers a hostile environment. New Castle will in all probability be in that situation in the state tournament. The Trojans will potentially play at Indianapolis Cathedral in the regional, and there are few venues more intimidating than that one in the state.
Yorktown offers New Castle the perfect pre-state tournament test with its vocal student section and remarkable success at home over the last four seasons. The Tigers have lost only three home matches in four years and only one of those (to Burris in 2009) was in a best three-of-five format.
“Like I told our kids, they have to be ready to come in and compete from the first point to the last point, because (Yorktown) is going to bring everything they’ve got,” Gardner said. “They’re hungry coming off their loss, and I expect nothing but their best.”
Both sides agree this match will come down to who controls tempo. If the Trojans stay in system and setter Taylor Patterson spreads the ball to Gillis, Ciara Leath, Payton Anderson and Laryssa Welch, they will be primed to hand Yorktown its second consecutive loss.
But if the Tigers serve New Castle out of system, turn this into a junkyard fight, and play with the mental edge they’ve shown in practice this week, they will chalk up their third win over a top-ranked team.
“These past two practices have been about not being intimidated, having a lot of grit and fight, and I feel like (today) when we come out, we’re going to have something to prove, because I think Saturday really hit us, especially the seniors,” Box said. “… Coming off such a hard loss, (today), we’re going to want to redeem ourselves.”