Yorktown volleyball coach Stephanie Bloom smiles and her eyes widen as if in astonishment at how a team comprised of former role players and green, albeit talented, underclassmen is somehow one win away from another state championship.
The Class 3A No. 1 Tigers will take the court at approximately 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Worthen Arena to play No. 3 Indianapolis Bishop Chatard in the title match. This is a rematch of the 2011 state final when Yorktown swept Chatard. The Trojans returned virtually everyone from last season, so their return to the state final is no surprise. But the Tigers lost three all-state players to graduation, so for them to be back, with a gaudy 35-3 record no less, shocks even their coach.
“I can’t even really explain how it feels,” Bloom says. “I just keep thinking, ‘Who gets to go back to state two years in a row?'”
The overachieving Tigers nearly unraveled back in the first week of October, though, after back-to-back decisive losses to 2A No. 1 Wapahani and 4A No. 1 New Castle. The suddenly self-doubting Tigers then dropped the opening set to their rival Delta as the possibility of a third consecutive loss for the first time since Bloom took over the program in 2008 seemed imminent.
Bloom pulled her players aside before the second set and essentially said, enough is enough. That message sank in as the Tigers responded by rolling Delta in the next three sets in a match Bloom and two of her seniors (Nikki Box and Harlie Holding) pinpoint as the defining moment of their season thus far.
Since that loss to New Castle, Yorktown is a perfect 10-0 with six of those matches against teams that finished the season ranked in either 3A or 4A.
“There was a point when coach Bloom was like, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I can’t do it for you. I can’t bring the energy. I can’t be the leader on the court. I can’t tell you guys how to play good and how not to play good,'” Holding says of the Delta match on Oct. 6. “We all know how to play. We just kept hanging on to things, and volleyball is so mental. You keep hanging on to things and you’re just gone for the rest of the match.
“… I think we just calmed down and realized that if we want to get a run in the tournament, or let alone just have a good season, we’re going to have to play together. We’re in it together good or bad.”
Bloom credits her four seniors for uniting the Tigers through that challenging stretch. Their transition from followers to leaders took some time , but when their team faced adversity for the first time this season, they demonstrated the type of leadership Bloom demands from her seniors.
“I think it just took a little bit of time for them to figure out, first of all, how do we mesh as the four of us? And for them to really understand what I’m expecting of them and what that looks like,” Bloom says.”
Box says the underclassmen deserve their share of credit, too, for the Tigers returning to the state title match.
Yorktown attacked almost exclusively through its outside hitters Box and Chowning until dropping those consecutive matches to Wapahani and New Castle and losing the first set to Delta. The once all-too-predictable Tigers now attack from every direction and dictate play with sophomore Karli Acree, junior Rachel Hines and sophomore Carson Malapit all threats to terminate. That change started against Delta and is one of the prime reasons Yorktown will be playing for another state title Saturday.
“We came out (in the second set) and the younger girls stepped up so much by showing fight and like, showing that they did want it,” Box recalls of the Delta match, “and so at the end of the match we came out on top, because everybody came together, showing if you play your role, we will come out on top.”